A bomb killed five people, and President Hamid Karzai announced a delay in parliamentary elections Thursday. The events underline the challenges for Afghanistan more than three years after the fall of the Taliban.
The bomb exploded on the side of a street in the southern city of Kandahar, killing at least five people and wounding 32. Police blamed Taliban-led rebels for the attack, which hit a passing taxi carrying women and children, a roadside restaurant and other people.
A purported Taliban spokesman denied responsibility for the attack.
The bombing happened 10 days after a British consultant to the Afghan government was assassinated in Kabul, casting doubt on assertions by Karzai and the U.S. military that the country is becoming secure.
The United States still has about 17,000 service members hunting al-Qaeda and Taliban rebels in southern and eastern Afghanistan. Kandahar was the main stronghold of the hard-line Taliban regime before it was ousted in a U.S.-led offensive in late 2001.
U.S. forces helped cordon off the attack area in a busy commercial district. Clothing of the wounded was scattered, along with wreckage of the taxi, a motorized rickshaw and two motorbikes.
City police chief Khan Mohammed said that about two hours before the bombing, another explosion six miles west of Kandahar broke the window of a passing U.N. vehicle. No one was hurt.
The parliamentary vote was scheduled for May, but the United Nations and the Afghan electoral commission have been grappling with problems including a lack of census data and how to register thousands of returning refugees.
"The preparations are going on, and now they told us, the commission chairman, that the elections will be held in September," Karzai said at a news conference. "The Afghan people are waiting very eagerly to send their members to parliament."
Afghanistan adopted a new constitution early in 2004 and successfully held the presidential vote in October despite worries of violence. The parliament vote would cap the political process laid out in U.N.-sponsored accords signed in Bonn, Germany, at the end of 2001.
Visiting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States would support Afghanistan as it prepares for the election and called its re-emergence from years of war an inspiration to the world.
The country's booming heroin industry is a "serious problem," Rice said, though one that she and Karzai said is being tackled with a crackdown on opium farmers and smugglers and millions in aid to promote legal crops.
She said the United States made a mistake by losing its focus on Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, which plunged the country into a civil war that allowed the Taliban to turn the country into a haven for al-Qaeda.
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