A suicide bombing outside the residence of an Afghanistan governor killed at least 20 people on Thursday, police and hospital officials said. At least 36 other people were also wounded in the attack, which struck the gathering in the eastern Khost province.
The people had gathered to protest against acting Governor Abduljabar Naeemi, who has been accused of rampant corruption and land theft, Al Jazeera reported. Members of Khost’s provincial council had alleged that Naeemi had a role in blocking projects from the central government. They had also called on President Ashraf Ghani to remove him and other corrupt officials.
The latest incident took place after nearly a week of protests outside the governor's house.
Hedayat Hamidi, local health director, told the Associated Press (AP) that hospitals in the area had received at least 60 wounded, "among them civilians and members of the security forces." A local lawmaker was also reportedly wounded.
The protests were slammed by local officials as illegal and disruptive.
“These illegal armed individuals are not only creating problems for government officials, but also disrupting traffic in the city,” Mujahideen Unity Council regional head Maulvi Sardar Mohammad told local news site Pajhwok last week, calling on authorities to disband the protests.
The Khost region lies along the border with Pakistan, and the Taliban reportedly have an entrenched powerful presence there. The Taliban denied responsibility for the attack, according to Agence France-Presse, and no other group appears to have taken responsibility so far. In recent months, hundreds of thousands of people have crossed the border into Afghanistan fleeing an offensive from the Pakistani army, AP reported.
The number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan surged sharply, rising 22 percent in 2014 compared to a year ago, largely as a result of intensifying ground battles between government and insurgent forces.
Local militias are also responsible for the increasing violence. They remain highly controversial and have been accused of major human rights violations. Ghani had vowed to disband the armed groups.
U.S. President Barack Obama last week quashed a decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan this year.