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Afghanistan Marks Day of Nat'l Mourning07/24 11:08

   Afghanistan marked a national day of mourning on Sunday, a day after a 
suicide bomber killed at least 80 people who were taking part in a peaceful 
demonstration in Kabul. The attack was claimed by the Islamic State group.

   KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Afghanistan marked a national day of mourning on 
Sunday, a day after a suicide bomber killed at least 80 people who were taking 
part in a peaceful demonstration in Kabul. The attack was claimed by the 
Islamic State group.

   Authorities say another 231 people were wounded, some seriously, in the 
bombing Saturday afternoon on a march by members of the ethnic Hazara 
community, who are predominantly Shiite Muslim. Most Afghans are Sunni, and the 
IS group regards Shiites as apostates.

   The attack was the first by IS on Kabul --- and the capital's worst since a 
vicious Taliban insurgency began 15 years ago --- raising concerns about the 
group's reach and capability in Afghanistan.

   Bereaved families collected their dead from hospitals and morgues across the 
capital, and began digging graves as the first funerals went ahead in the west 
of the capital.

   Many people chose to bury their dead together with others --- rather than in 
traditional family plots --- encouraged by organizers of the Saturday 
demonstration, who call themselves the Enlighten Movement. In a hilltop 
graveyard in the Surkh Abad suburb of south-western Kabul, hundreds of people, 
most of them men, braved high winds and swirling dust to conduct the Shiite 
funeral rites.

   Simple wooden coffins covered in the green Shiite flag were carried by men 
on their shoulders and lowered into graves that relatives had dug themselves 
with shovels.

   In the city's west, in Omaid-a-Sabz, the grieving chose to bury their dead 
side by side in long rows. Mullah Mohammad Hassan Rasat said the Hazara people 
felt a deep sense of injustice and anger that the government had not kept its 
election promise to ensure that development was equal for all Afghan ethnic 
groups.

   "Our people only want justice and equal development for all," he said.

   Hazaras account for up to 15 percent of Afghanistan's population, estimated 
at around 30 million, and say they face discrimination. During the Taliban's 
1996-2001 rule, the Hazaras were often brutally treated. The Taliban were quick 
to deny culpability for the Saturday attack, however, issuing a statement 
before IS claimed responsibility.

   The Saturday attack has raised concerns about sectarianism, and the Interior 
Ministry announced a ban on public gatherings and demonstrations in an apparent 
bid to avoid any inter-communal strife. A presidential spokesman pointed out 
that the ban on public gatherings would not apply to the funerals for 
Saturday's victims.

   IS has had a presence in Afghanistan for the past year, mainly in the 
eastern province of Nangarhar along the Pakistani border. The Afghan military, 
backed by U.S. troops, is planning an offensive against IS positions in 
Nangarhar in coming days.

   Prior to the Saturday attack, thousands of Hazaras had marched through Kabul 
to demand the rerouting of a power line through their impoverished province of 
Bamiyan, in the central highlands. It was their second demonstration; the first 
was in May with a much better turnout and attended by senior Hazara 
politicians, who were absent from Saturday's march.

   The office of President Ashraf Ghani said that march organizers had been 
warned to call off the demonstration after intelligence was received that an 
attack was likely.

   Daud Naji, an Enlighten Movement leader, said on Sunday that they had been 
told only that there was a "heightened risk" of attack and had subsequently 
cancelled nine of 10 planned routes.

   On Sunday, Ghani attended a memorial prayer service in a mosque on the 
grounds of the presidential palace, his spokesman Haroon Chakhansuri said.

   The office of the United Nations assistance mission in Afghanistan issued a 
statement conveying its "deepest condolences and solidarity" and noting that 
people of all ethnicities across the country were still queueing at hospitals 
to donate blood for the wounded.

   Hazara demonstrators have continued to occupy Demazang Square, where the 
attack took place as the march was winding down and some prepared to set up a 
camp, Naji said. They would stay until three conditions were met, he said.

   The Enlighten Movement wished to have its own representatives, as well as 
others from international human rights organizations, involved in a commission 
Ghani has established to investigate the IS attack.

   The movement also wanted the power line rerouted through Bamiyan, as 
originally demanded. The multi-million-dollar regional project was routed away 
from Bamiyan by the previous Afghan government for financial considerations, 
according to people involved in the planning, who spoke on condition of 
anonymity as they were not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

   Thirdly, Naji said, they wanted the name of Demazang Square changed to 
Shahada or Martyrs' Square, "to honor the memories of those who were killed, 
along with a picture of everyone who died there."

   Ghani's spokesman Chakhansuri confirmed that the president has issued a 
decree to change the name of the square as the Hazaras had asked. He also said 
that Enlighten Movement members would participate in the investigation 
commission.

   In response to the rerouting demand for the so-called TUTAP power project, 
Chakhansuri referred to a contract signed on June 21 for the transmission of a 
300-megawatt power line from the north into Bamiyan. Like the TUTAP line, it is 
also funded by the Asian Development Bank.

   The death toll in Saturday's attack was not yet finalized Sunday, according 
to the Interior Ministry. The ministry said on Saturday that 80 people were 
killed; Naji said the Enlighten Movement puts the death toll so far at 84.


(KA)

 
 
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