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Roadside bomb kills 13 in Afghanistan

The victims include women and children, part of a group traveling to a rural health clinic. The attack comes as President Hamid Karzai orders a delay in the opening of the new parliament.

January 20, 2011|By Laura King, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — They were on their way to a rural health clinic — men, women and children packed aboard a motorized rickshaw, one of the humblest but most common modes of transportation in Afghanistan. The bomb killed at least 13 of them.

Wednesday's deaths, in a restive province bordering Pakistan, were the latest toll in what has become a national scourge: powerful homemade bombs hidden alongside roads, in fields, on village pathways, killing and injuring not only indiscriminately but in greater numbers than at any point in the nine-year war.

Insurgents use the buried bombs as a crude equalizer against a vastly better-equipped Western military force, and such devices account for the bulk of military fatalities, which hit record levels last year. But more often than not, the devices are accidentally triggered by ordinary Afghans going about their daily business.

The latest blast, in Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan, drew widespread condemnation. NATO's International Security Assistance Force called it "despicable murder." Afghan President Hamid Karzai's office confirmed that women and children were among the dead.

Western military officials said the death toll could be as high as 20, but provincial officials and the Interior Ministry put the number at 13. A provincial spokesman, Mukhlis Afghan, said the explosion occurred about 10:30 a.m. as the villagers were on their way to receive medical treatment in the district of Khoshamand.

Doctors and nurses are few in Paktika, where Western troops do daily battle with insurgents, many of whom infiltrate from neighboring Pakistan. Many villagers must travel long distances for treatment of injuries and ailments, sometimes banding together for safety — a calculation that proved catastrophically wrong Wednesday.

The violence came against a backdrop of political turmoil, as Karzai ordered a one-month delay in the inauguration of the new parliament, which was to have taken place Sunday. Earlier Wednesday, a special court set up to investigate electoral fraud had urged the delay until the results were finalized.

The four months since the September balloting for the lower house of parliament have been filled with accusations and counter-accusations of fraud, intimidation and vote-buying. The appointment of the special court, announced by Karzai in December, immediately drew criticism from lawmakers and others who termed it unconstitutional.

There had been widespread speculation that the new parliament would not be inaugurated until after the court's rulings, a delay urged by some losing candidates who hope that results may change.

The vote and its quarrelsome aftermath have strained Karzai's already frayed relations with the international community. Western governments had hoped that the balloting for the 259-member lower house would help erase the taint of the August 2009 presidential election, which was marked by what observers described as massive fraud. Instead, the September balloting rivaled the presidential vote for apparent malfeasance.

The court's head, Sidiqullah Haqiq, told journalists in Kabul, the capital, that the tribunal was considering recounts in some areas, but did not say how long that might take. Nearly 25% of the ballots had already been invalidated by electoral authorities, who say the special court has no jurisdiction in the matter.

laura.king@latimes.com

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