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Roadside bomb hits Afghan wedding party, 19 killed

KABUL -- A roadside bomb tore through a minibus carrying people to a wedding celebration in northern Afghanistan yesterday, killing at least 19 people and wounding 16, authorities said.

The blast underscored the heavy toll the war has taken on civilians, who are frequently caught up in the fighting between insurgents and Afghan and foreign security forces.

The bus was taking guests to a wedding celebration in the Dawlat Abad district of the northern Balkh province, about 270 miles northwest of the capital, Kabul, police spokesman Shir Jan Durani said.

District police commander Bismullah Muslimyar said six children and seven women were among those killed in the 6 a.m. blast. Muslimyar said the wedding occurred Thursday, and the party was heading to the groom's home to congratulate the newlyweds according to tradition.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai strongly condemned the attack. "Planting a mine on a road used by civilians and the killing of innocent people represents hostility toward humanity," he said in a statement.

Earlier this month, the UN Security Council expressed serious concern at the high number of civilian casualties in the war, especially among women and children.

The Taliban and other militants are responsible for the overwhelming majority of civilian deaths in the country. About 77 percent of the deaths between January and June can be attributed to insurgents, a UN report said.

Meanwhile, NATO's visiting top official urged the Afghan government to ensure that the next presidential elections in 2014 are free and fair. Karzai will not be able to run after having served the maximum two terms in office. -- AP

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