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12 civilians perish in bomb blast

A SUICIDE bomber on a motorcycle killed 12 civilians in southern Afghanistan, and police fired yesterday on a crowd of rock-throwing protesters in the west who were angry about civilian deaths they blame on American bombing runs.

United States and Afghan investigators were examining the site of the civilian deaths, but it was unclear how soon they would have a report.

In southern Helmand province, a suicide attacker on a motorbike set off his explosives yesterday near an international military vehicle in a market area of Gereshk district. The explosion killed 12 people and wounded at least 32, said Daud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the governor.

Ahmadi said he did not have information on whether there were any casualties among the international troops in the vehicle. A spokesman for NATO forces confirmed the incident but said he did not have any information on whether there were troop casualties.

In the capital of western Farah province, a protest erupted into a melee outside the governor's office. One protester was wounded by a bullet and five more suffered other injuries after they tried to storm the main government building there, said Gul Ahmad Ayubi, a health department official in the province.

The crowd of about 150 people were protesting the deaths of civilians in the villages of Ganjabad and Gerani, said Belqis Roshan, a provincial council member. The international Red Cross and local officials said the people were killed by American bombs on Monday, though the US military said that may not have been the case.

Mohammad Nieem Qadderdan, a former district chief of Bala Buluk who visited the site of Monday's battle, said 100 to 120 people were killed. If 100 civilians died in the fight, it would be the deadliest case of civilian casualties since the start of the 2001 US-led invasion. The Red Cross said women and children were among dozens of dead.

Reto Stocker, the head of the Red Cross in Afghanistan, blamed an air strike for the death of a volunteer at his organization and 13 members of his family who were sheltering inside a home.

Villagers said they gathered children, women and elderly men in several compounds near the village of Gerani to keep them away from the fighting, but the compounds were later hit by air strikes.


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