President Hamid Karzai has announced that parliamentary elections planned for May will be postponed until September, confirming that logistical glitches have delayed a vote supposed to complete the country's transition to democracy.
A bomb attack that killed five people further underlined the challenges Afghanistan faces more than three years after the fall of the Taliban. Visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pledged sustained support for Afghanistan's democratic transition, though she said Washington has yet to decide whether to keep long-term military bases.
The bomb exploded Thursday on the side of a street in the southern city of Kandahar, killing at least five people and wounding 32. Police blamed Taliban-led rebels for the attack, which hit a passing taxi carrying women and children, a roadside restaurant and other people.
A purported Taliban spokesman denied responsibility for the attack, which took place while Rice was in the capital, Kabul, 240km to the northeast.
The bombing happened 10 days after a British consultant to the Afghan government was assassinated in Kabul, casting doubt on assertions by Karzai and the US military that the country is becoming secure.
The city's police chief Khan Mohammed said that about two hours before the bombing, another explosion 10km west of Kandahar broke the window of a passing UN vehicle. No one was hurt.
The parliamentary vote was scheduled for May but the UN and the Afghan electoral commission have been grappling with problems, including a lack of census data and logistics of registering thousands of returning refugees.
"The preparations are going on and now they told us, the commission chairman, that the elections will be held in September," Karzai said at a news conference with Rice at his Kabul palace. "The Afghan people are waiting very eagerly to send their members to parliament."
Afghanistan adopted a new constitution early in 2004 and successfully held the presidential vote in October, despite worries of violence.
The country's booming heroin industry was a "serious problem," Rice said, though one which both she and Karzai said was being tackled with a crackdown on opium farmers and smugglers and millions in aid to promote legal crops. She said the US made a mistake by losing its focus on Afghanistan following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, which plunged the country into civil war.
Rice wouldn't elaborate on whether it wanted long-term bases in the country, which borders Iran and other oil-rich Central Asian countries.
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