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Afghanistan’s Nowruz celebration marred by suicide bombing

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KABUL (Reuters) – A suicide bomber blew himself up near a Shi’ite shrine in Kabul yesterday, killing at least 32 people and wounding dozens, officials said, as the Afghan capital celebrated the Nowruz holiday marking the start of the Persian new year.

The explosion underlined the threat to the city from militant attacks, despite government promises to tighten security in the wake of an attack in January that killed around 100 people.

Militant group Islamic State, which has claimed several previous attacks on Shi’ite targets, claimed responsibility, saying the attack specifically targeted Shi’ites celebrating Nowruz, its Amaq news agency said.

Kabul had been on alert for attacks over the Nowruz holiday but the bomber was still able to detonate his explosives as people were leaving the Kart-e Sakhi shrine.

Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danesh said the bomber had apparently intended to reach the shrine but had been prevented from getting closer by police checkpoints.

“We had our security in place in and around the shrine,” he said yesterday.

Waheed Majroh, a spokesman for the ministry of public health, said 32 people were confirmed dead. He added that more than 50 people were being treated in hospitals in the city.

Nowruz, an ancient Persian celebration of the start of spring, is widely celebrated in many parts of Afghanistan but has also faced opposition from some fundamentalist Muslims, who say it is un-Islamic.

The seemingly endless attacks have undermined support for the government of President Ashraf Ghani, who offered last month to hold peace talks with Taliban insurgents fighting to drive out international forces and re-impose their version of strict Islamic law.

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