Karzai says Afghan violence unprecedented on holy day

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Tuesday that twin blasts which killed more than 50 people at Afghan shrines were the first "terrorist" acts on an important holy day.

It was "the first time that, on such an important religious day in Afghanistan, terrorism of that horrible nature is taking place," Karzai told reporters, a day after an international conference in Bonn on the country's future.

"We all wish the best for those who are injured and a quick recovery and patience to the families of those who have lost their dear ones," he said at a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The blasts -- one in Kabul which ripped through a crowd of worshippers including children, and another in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif -- took place on the Shiite holy day of Ashura.

Merkel also expressed her condolences over the attacks, adding that they showed "we must continue to work hard in order to be able to ensure security in Afghanistan".

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either blast. Sectarian violence has been rare in Afghanistan but when the Sunni Taliban ruled in the 1990s, minority Shiites from the Hazara group suffered brutal persecution.

Shiites beat and whip themselves in religious fervour during the 10-day Ashura ceremonies, which began on November 27 but peak on Tuesday. They mark the seventh-century killing of a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed.

On Monday a major conference on Afghanistan's future after NATO combat troops leave in 2014 pledged sustained support for another decade, in exchange for clear progress on good governance.

© 2011 AFP

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