Blast kills top Afghan official
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|Wed, 09-02-2009 - 8:40am|
Abdullah Laghmani and at least 21 other people were killed in the attack in the town of Mehtar Lam.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, told AP news agency a suicide bomber had targeted Mr Laghmani.
The attack came after the UN released a report saying opium cultivation had dropped significantly in Afghanistan.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime said poppy cultivation had dropped by 22% in a year and opium production by 10%.
Meanwhile, European and US officials are meeting in Paris to discuss a new strategy in Afghanistan.
'Covered in blood'
Reports say a suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a crowd of officials - including Mr Laghmani - who had gathered outside the mosque in Mehtar Lam for a ceremony.
The provincial governor, Lutfullah Mashal, said in a news conference that at least 22 people had been killed, and another 35 hurt.
He said three senior officials in the local government had been killed, as well as Mr Laghmani - whose car was completely destroyed in the attack.
Most of the rest of the dead were believed to be civilians, including three women.
A Taliban spokesman told the BBC it claimed responsibility for the attack.
Reuters news agency quoted an eyewitness who saw a pick-up truck carrying wounded people covered in blood.
Eight ambulances left the scene, headed toward Jalalabad, the nearest big city, the witness said.
This successful strike against a senior figure in the state apparatus is a serious blow against the government in its fight against the insurgency, says the BBC's Damian Grammaticas in Kabul.
Mr Laghmani was the second in command in the National Directorate of Security (NDS) - the national intelligence service - and was known as an active and energetic figure in the fight against criminal and insurgent networks, he adds.
The attack underlines the Taliban's ability to carry out complex and targeted attacks.
It is the latest in a string of deadly attacks mainly in the south and east of Afghanistan, occurring in the weeks before and since the country's 20 August presidential and provincial elections.
The UN greeted the findings of its latest report on poppy and opium production in Afghanistan as a "welcome piece of good news".
The biggest falls have been in Helmand province, but levels remain higher than three years ago, when British troops began fighting the Taliban there.
But world heroin prices remain low and sceptics suggest suppliers may be depleting stockpiles to boost prices.
Vote counting is still continuing after the 20 August election, which has been mired in claims of mass rigging.
The New York Times carried claims on Tuesday that residents of the Shorabak district of Kandahar - members of the Bariz tribe - had been denied their votes wholesale after deciding to back President Hamid Karzai's main rival, Abdullah Abdullah.
Tribal leaders told the newspaper that on election day an ally of President Karzai had detained the district's governor and shut down all 45 polling sites.
They said police had stuffed the ballot boxes with fake ballots before sending them to Kabul.
The president's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, who heads the provincial council in Kandahar, told the BBC the accusations were absolutely baseless.
Vote tallies released on Monday showed President Karzai leading with nearly 46%, with Mr Abdullah at 33.2%. Mr Karzai needs 50% of the votes to avoid a run-off.