March 23, 2019 / 6:21 AM / a month ago

Taliban claims deadly attack on Afghan stadium celebration

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan (Reuters) - An attack claimed by the Taliban killed four people and wounded 31 on Saturday during a celebration in the Afghan city of Lashkar Gah.

Afghanistan’s multi-day celebrations to mark its traditional new year have been marred by several attacks, beginning with explosions claimed by Islamic State in the capital of Kabul on Thursday that killed six people and wounded 23.

Saturday’s blasts in the southern provincial capital appeared to have been caused by explosives planted at the stadium where nearly 1,000 people were celebrating Farmers Day.

Helmand provincial governor Mohammad Yasin Khan was knocked over but suffered only superficial injuries, a spokesman said.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility on Twitter for the explosions.

In Reuters video footage, bursts of gunfire can be heard before and after one of the blasts, causing people to flee. A Reuters witness said the gunfire came from security personnel.

“There was chaos and people were running. Security forces asked them to calm down and then the second explosion happened,” said Najibullah, who was in the stadium for the celebrations.

He said the explosions seemed to originate from where tents were set up for farmers to display their produce.

The Persian new year is widely celebrated in Afghanistan but some hardline Islamists oppose the festivities, saying they are un-Islamic.

Helmand, source of much of Afghanistan’s opium, is one of several Afghan provinces in which insurgents have the greatest control and influence.

The latest attack came a year after a car bomb killed at least 14 people who had gathered for a wrestling match in Lashkar Gah.

Fighting has been relentless in Afghanistan amid recurring peace talks between U.S. and Taliban negotiators. The latest negotiating round wrapped up this month with both sides saying there was progress towards ending the 17-year war.

The U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction estimated in January that the government controlled or influenced just over half the country, covering nearly two-thirds of the population.

Reporting by Mohammad Stanekzai in LASHKAR GAH; Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Hameed Farzad; Writing by Rod Nickel in KABUL; Editing by Robert Birsel, Tom Hogue and Alexander Smith

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