A suicide bomber has killed at least 16 people and wounded 40 others at an anti-corruption rally in eastern , the latest casualties ahead of the Taliban’s expected spring offensive.
Thursday’s attack comes just a week after Washington announced it would not be halving the 9,800 US troops still in Afghanistan by the end of the year.
The warned that the US troop announcement would damage any prospects of peace talks and they vowed to continue fighting.
The latest attack targeted a demonstration outside the residence of the acting governor of Khost province, Abduljabar Naeemi, sending terrified victims fleeing for cover.
“Today morning, a suicide attack was carried out by the enemies of peace and stability of Afghanistan at a rally in the city of Khost, in which 16 people were martyred, and 40 others were wounded,” Naeemi said.
Humayoun Humayoun, a well-known MP from Khost, which borders Pakistan, was wounded in the explosion, he added.
The interior ministry in Kabul said 17 civilians had been killed and 37 wounded in the explosion, adding that it “strongly condemns the terrorist attack”.
The Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, also condemned the “cowardly attack during a peaceful protest, which is the civil right of our people”.
Protesters accusing Naeemi of rampant corruption and land grabbing have staged demonstrations outside his residence for nearly a week.
The Taliban denied responsibility for the blast, but suicide bombings have long been a weapon of choice for the militants in their 13-year battle against the government and its foreign backers.
The bombs often target Afghan security forces, but they have also taken a heavy toll on civilians.
The number of civilians killed and wounded in Afghanistan jumped 22% in 2014, a recent UN report said, as Nato troops withdrew from combat.
Barack Obama last week reversed plans to withdraw about 5,000 US troops from Afghanistan this year, an overture to Ghani, the country’s new reform-minded leader.
A large section of Afghan society welcomed the decision, with many fearing that without continued international military support, Afghanistan – like Iraq – could spiral into chaos.