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Page last updated at 10:15 GMT, Wednesday, 31 March 2010 11:15 UK

Afghanistan bombing kills 13 in busy Helmand market

Adm Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, gestures as he speaks to elders in Marjah, 30 March
America's most senior military official is visiting Afghanistan this week

A bomb explosion in a crowded village market in the south Afghan province of Helmand has killed at least 13 people and injured 45.

The attack in Babaji, near Lashkar Gah, apparently targeted farmers collecting free seeds under an anti-opium drive.

Local officials said the bomb had been strapped to a bicycle left in the market and detonated remotely.

Meanwhile, the top US military official has said the Pentagon's Afghan efforts are to focus on Kandahar.

No group said it had carried out the attack on Babaji.

The area is close to Marjah, the focus of a major offensive against the Taliban.

No foreign security forces were caught up in Wednesday's blast, the BBC's David Loyn reports from Kabul.

Kandahar target

Provincial government spokesman Daoud Ahmadi said the bomb had exploded near people who were at the market to receive free vegetable seeds provided by the British Government as part of its programme to encourage them not to plant opium poppy.

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Early reports spoke of 17 deaths but this number was revised downwards.

International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) international peacekeepers said they had sent a patrol to the scene to help the Afghan authorities.

An Isaf official, speaking to AFP news agency on condition of anonymity, said the bomb had probably been a crudely made improvised explosive device.

The Taliban have put out statements in recent years saying they have instructed their fighters to reduce the number of civilian casualties.

For both sides, the insurgents and the security forces, protecting civilians is the prize in the war for Afghanistan but this bomb appears to have been detonated at a time when maximum civilian casualties could be expected, our correspondent says.

The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm Mike Mullen, said on his visit to Afghanistan that the operation in Marjah was moving forward successfully.

Speaking in the capital Kabul, Adm Mullen said Kandahar would be military's main focus going into the summer months.

"It is a cornerstone in reversing the momentum for the Taliban," he said.

Most of the remaining new troops promised by US President Barack Obama would be sent to Kandahar, he added.

To date, about half of the 30,000 soldiers promised by the US leader late last year have arrived, the Associated Press news agency reports.

Adm Mullen stressed that Kandahar would be a greater challenge than Helmand.

"Kandahar is not Marjah, we understand that," he said. "It is a much bigger challenge and in that regard has much greater potential to achieve this goal of reversing the momentum."



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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
CBC Bike bomb kills 13 in Afghanistan - 18 hrs ago
News24.com Afghan bicycle bomb kills 8 - 21 hrs ago
San Francisco Chronicle Bicycle bomb kills 13 in southern Afghanistan - 21 hrs ago
Citizen.co.za Bomb attack kills 13 in crowded Afghan market - 22 hrs ago
France24 AFGHANISTAN: Deadly market bomb strikes at forefront of anti-Taliban operations - 23 hrs ago


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