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Suicide bomb kills 17

A suicide bomber riding a rickshaw blew himself up outside a checkpoint near a market in northern Afghanistan on Tuesday, killing at least 17 civilians, officials said, in the latest attack in the countdown to next month's presidential elections.

Nobody immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in the capital of Faryab province, but it happened in an area where the Taliban and allied militant groups are active. The Taliban have threatened a campaign of violence to disrupt the April 5 vote, which will choose a new president to lead the country as foreign troops prepare to end their combat mission by the end of the year.

The attacker was approaching a checkpoint where cars were being searched on a road leading to the governor's compound in Maymana, the Faryab provincial capital, when he detonated his explosives hidden in the rickshaw, the officials said.

However, most of the victims were vendors peddling fresh bread and other people at the busy roadside market area.

Provincial Gov. Mohammadullah Patash said 17 people were killed, including three children, and 26 were wounded in the explosion, which struck some 200 metres (yards) away from the governor's compound.

Employees of the nearby electricity department also were among the casualties, according to the deputy governor, Abdul Satar Barez.

"They killed innocent people in a place where locals were just trying to earn 10 Afghanis (about 20 cents) to buy a piece of bread. Most of the casualties were either selling bread or buying it," he said.

The U.N. Security Council condemned the attack "in the strongest terms," reiterated its serious concern at the threats posed by the Taliban, Al-Qaida and illegal armed groups, "and underlined the need to bring perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism to justice."

President Hamid Karzai also strongly condemned Tuesday's attack, saying it only served the purpose of foreigners, which he said was to kill Muslims and create instability in Afghanistan.

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