In photo: Afghan policemen keep watch during a demonstration by Afghanistan's Hazara minority in Kabul on July 23, 2016. (Reuters)
Suicide bombers hit a large demonstration by members of Afghanistan's Hazara minority in Kabul today, killing at least 80 people and wounding at least 231, officials said.
Graphic television footage from the site of the blasts showed many dead bodies lying on the bloodied road, close to where thousands of Hazara had been demonstrating over the route of a planned multimillion dollar power line.
The Afghan public health ministry says at least 80 dead and 231 wounded had been taken to nearby hospitals, but the numbers may change. It was not immediately clear how many bombs were involved in the attack, but an eyewitness WION spoke to claims he heard three distinct blasts.
Afghan President condemns attack
Thousands of demonstrators had gathered to demand that a multi-million-dollar power line pass through their electricity-starved province of Bamiyan, one of the most deprived areas of Afghanistan with a large Hazara population.
In a statement, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he was "deeply saddened" by the carnage, adding that the casualties included security officials.
"Peaceful protest is the right of every citizen, but opportunist terrorists infiltrated the crowds and carried out the attack, killing and injuring a number of citizens including some security forces."
"The horrific attack on a group of peaceful protesters in Kabul demonstrates the utter disregard that armed groups have for human life," Amnesty International further said in a statement.
"Such attacks are a reminder that the conflict in Afghanistan is not winding down, as some believe, but escalating, with consequences for the human rights situation in the country that should alarm us all," Ghani said.
Pakistan condemns blasts, expresses deep grief
Pakistan's Foreign Office (FO) on Sunday said in a statement that "Pakistan strongly condemns the dastardly terrorist acts in Kabul".
"The government and the people of Pakistan extend their sincere condolences and profound sympathies to the families of the bereaved people and convey their earnest prayers and wishes for early recovery of those injured in this heinous act of terrorism," it said.
The protest march was largely peaceful before the explosion struck as the demonstrators sought to march on the presidential palace, waving flags and chanting slogans such as "death to discrimination".
Emergency vehicles were at the site and wounded were being carried away.
Much of the city centre had been sealed off with stacks of shipping containers and other obstacles as the march began earlier today, and security was tight with helicopters patrolling overhead.
Islamic State reportedly claimed the responsibility for the blasts, which came some three weeks after a suicide bomber killed dozens of people in an attack on newly graduated police cadets that was claimed by the Taliban.
Hazaras have long suffered discrimination
Rereouting of 500 kV transmission line from Turkmenistan to Kabul through two provinces with large Hazara populations, government says would cost millions and delay the badly needed project by years.
The Persian-speaking Hazara, a mainly Shia group estimated to make up about 9 per cent of the population, are Afghanistan's third-largest minority but they have long suffered discrimination. Thousands were killed under Taliban rule.
The protest by a group whose leaders include members of the national unity government had put pressure on President Ashraf Ghani, who has faced growing opposition from both inside and outside the government.
It also risked exacerbating ethnic tensions with other groups and provinces the government says would have to wait up to three years for power if the route were changed.
The transmission line, intended to provide secure electricity to 10 provinces is part of the so-called TUTAP project backed by the Asia Development Bank, linking energy-rich states of Central Asia with Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Hazaras say they want the line to come through Bamyan and Wardak provinces, west of Kabul, where many Hazaras live, to ensure their power supply. The government says the project already guarantees ample power to the two provinces and denies it disadvantages Hazara people.
Under current plans, due to be implemented by 2018, the line will pass from a converter station in the northern town of Pul-e Khumri to Kabul through the mountainous Salang pass.
An earlier plan foresaw a longer route from Pul-e Khumri through Bamyan and Wardak, but this option was dropped.
Eyewitness talks to WION
A demonstrator Ejaz Malikzada spoke to WION over the phone after the incident and confirmed that the protests were largely peaceful.
He is the one who claimed that at least three explosions rocked the demonstrations. In a series of posts on microblogging site Twitter, he shared some videos capturing the ensuing choas.
(Reuters, AFP and WION)