At least 10 people have been killed in a roadside bomb attack in the Afghan capital Kabul that targeted First Vice-President Amrullah Saleh.
Mr Saleh, a former head of the Afghan intelligence services, escaped with slight burns on his face and hand.
The bombing came as Afghan officials and the Taliban prepared to begin their first formal talks.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a tweet that the militant group was not responsible for the blast.
Footage filmed shortly after the explosion showed a large plume of black smoke rising from the scene.
Tareq Arain, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s interior ministry, said the roadside bomb targeted Mr Saleh’s convoy as the official travelled to work. Mr Arain said 10 civilians who worked in the area were killed and 15 people, including one of Mr Saleh’s bodyguards, were wounded.
A witness to the explosion said he was driving past the location on the way to a clinic when the bomb detonated.
“I lost one of my brothers, and the other one is hurt,” the man told the Reuters news agency soon after the blast. “What kind of government is this? There’s no ambulance, and even the police haven’t arrived yet.”
Mr Saleh is known as a vocal opponent of the Taliban, and the former intelligence chief has survived several previous assassination attempts, including one last year that killed 20 people at his office. Speaking after the blast on Wednesday, he vowed to continue his political work.
“I am fine but some of my guards have been wounded. My son, who was in the car with me, and I are both fine,” Mr Saleh said in a video message, with bandages seen on his left hand. “I have some burns on my face and hand. The blast was strong.”
The interior ministry said the bomb was placed on a hand cart on the side of the road and detonated remotely when the vice-president’s convoy passed by.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who met Mr Saleh on Wednesday morning, after the attack, said the “terrorists and their foreign backers cannot undermine the people’s strong faith in peace, democracy and the bright future of our country”.
A European Union delegation in Afghanistan condemned the attack, calling it a “desperate act by spoilers of peace efforts, who must be collectively confronted”.
Afghan officials are expected to begin long delayed talks with the Taliban in the coming days in Doha, Qatar, in an attempt to reach a political reconciliation after years of bloodshed.
The Taliban signed a deal in February with the US to bring an end to 19 years of conflict between the two. The peace agreement put a stop to Taliban attacks on US forces but the militant group continued targeting the Afghan military and government.
But the Taliban did pledge in February not to launch attacks in urban areas, like the one in Kabul on Wednesday.
The so-called Islamic State group has also launched numerous high-profile attacks in Afghanistan in recent years. In August the group claimed responsibility for an operation against a prison in the eastern city of Jalalabad which left 29 people dead and allowed hundreds of inmates to escape.
Responding to Wednesday’s attack, the head of the Afghan government’s negotiating team, Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, called for violence to stop if the peace process was to succeed.
“The time for making excuses has passed. The killing of the people must end,” he said.
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