Afghan blast kills 5; elections delayed
A bomb killed five people and President Hamid Karzai announced a delay in parliamentary elections Thursday, underlining the challenges for Afghanistan more than three years after the fall of the Taliban.
The developments came as visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pledged sustained support for Afghanistan's democratic transition, though she said Washington has yet to decide whether to keep long-term military bases.
A purported Taliban spokesman denied responsibility for the attack, which took place while Rice was in the capital, Kabul, 150 miles to the northeast.
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.
American forces helped cordon off the area around the attack in a busy commercial district. Shoes and turbans of the wounded were scattered on the bloodstained street, along with the 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 with Rice at his Kabul palace. "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.
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 was a "serious problem," Rice said, though one which both she and Karzai said was 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 following 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-Qaida.
Rice said Washington now had a "long-term commitment" to Afghanistan, but wouldn't elaborate on whether it wanted long term bases in the country, which borders Iran and other oil-rich Central Asian countries.
"We have not yet determined what we would do in terms of a presence here," Rice told Radio Liberty.