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Afghan bombs kill at least 78 people in two days

KABUL, Afghanistan - A roadside mine killed 19 civilians, including children, and injured another five when it exploded in the southern Afghan province of Helmand on Wednesday, the provincial government told Reuters.

The strike on the minibus came a day after at least 59 people were killed in sectarian attacks in three cities across the country, and refocused attention on the fragile Afghan security situation.

The vehicle was driving on a road in Helmand province's volatile Sangin district — a Taliban stronghold — when it hit the bomb, said Daoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Helmand government, according to The Associated Press.

After Tuesday's attacks, the largest of which targeted a Shiite Muslim shrine in the capital Kabul, Afghan President Hamid Karzai cancelled a planned visit to Britain to return straight home, wiping out any residual optimism from an international conference about the future of Afghanistan, held on Monday in Germany.

At least five children were among the dead in the Helmand attack, Ahmadi said. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack — a common situation when bombs kill civilians.

On Tuesday, twin bombings on Shiite Muslims celebrating the holiday of Ashoura sparked fears that attacks in Afghanistan might be taking on a sectarian dimension for the first time. Ashoura honors the death of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, in 680 A.D.

A suicide bomber slaughtered dozens of Shiite worshippers and wounded more than 160 others Tuesday outside a Kabul shrine where hundreds had gathered to worship.

One U.S. citizen was also among the dead, according to a statement issued by the American embassy in Kabul. The deceased was not a government employee, U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Megan Ellis said, but declined to give further details.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), responsible for security across much of the country, says it is winning the war against the Taliban.

But if Tuesday's bombing sets a precedent for violence between the Sunni Muslim majority and the Shiite minority, it would severely stretch army and police resources.

At a funeral ceremony on Wednesday for victims of the attack, hundreds of Shiite Muslims bore aloft the bodies of the dead, chanting that because they had been killed at a Muslim ceremony, they had died in the name of the Prophet Muhammad.

"We were sacrificed for you," they shouted. "Where is the government, where are the members of parliament? Why they don't join our mourning? It creates a gap between people and the government," said Muhammad, 40 years old, who said one his relatives died in the Kabul blast.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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