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Senior female Afghan official shot dead

Waseem Nikzad / AFP - Getty Images

Men prepare to pray during the funeral Monday of Nadia Sediqqi in Mihtarlam, Afghanistan.

JALALABAD, Afghanistan -- Unknown gunmen shot dead a senior female government worker on Monday, officials in eastern Afghanistan said, five months after her predecessor was killed in a bomb attack.

Violence against women appears to be on the rise in Afghanistan, which activists and some lawmakers blame on what they say is waning interest in women's rights on the part of President Hamid Karzai's government, claims he denies.


Nadia Sediqqi, acting head of the women's affairs department in Laghman province, was killed as she headed to work in the capital Mehtar Lam, said the provincial governor's spokesman Sarhadi Zwak.

"They shot her as she was getting into a rickshaw," Zwak said of the attack about 93 miles east of Kabul, adding that she worked without bodyguards -- a common situation for female government workers.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

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The U.S. Embassy in Kabul condemned the attack.

“This attack, especially on Human Rights Day, shows that those who killed Ms. Siddiqi have no respect for human rights or the safety of the Afghan people,” it said in a statement.

Violence against women
Afghan women have won back basic rights in education, voting and employment since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001, but fears are mounting that such freedoms could be traded away as Kabul seeks peace talks with the group.

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More than 10 years after the beginning of the war, Afghanistan faces external pressure to reform as well as ongoing internal conflicts.

In a recent interview with NBC News, Afghan President Hamid Karzai denied that violence against women had been on the rise. Instead, he said, incidents of violence were being reported more today than in years past.

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“You hear more of violence because there is more awareness of it today because there's more reporting of it today because there is more enforcement of the law against violence today ... not that violence has increased,” he told NBC’s Atia Abawi.

Still, a 2011 poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation judged that Afghanistan was the most dangerous country in the world for women, beating on Congo and Pakistan.

Watch Atia Abawi's full, exclusive interview with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai in which he discusses the "growing perception" that insecurity in the region is caused by the United States and some of its allies who "promoted lawlessness" and "corruption" in Afghanistan.

Predecessor also slain
Sediqqi had replaced Hanifa Safi, who was killed in July by a car bomb that her family blamed on the Taliban.

Women who pursue careers in ultra-conservative Afghanistan often face opposition in a society where often they are ostracized, or worse, for mixing with men other than husbands or relatives.

After 10 years of Karzai's rule, has life improved in Afghanistan?

Safi's son later told Reuters that authorities had ignored repeated requests for protection, echoing greater concerns that the safety of female government workers is not taken seriously by Kabul, despite commitments to better the rights of women 11 years into the NATO-led war.

NBC News' Atia Abawi, Akbar Shinwari and Reuters contributed to this report.

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