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Jul 23, 7:16 AM EDT

Witnesses: Deadly blast strikes demonstration in Kabul


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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- An explosion struck a large demonstration march in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Saturday, causing multiple casualties, according to witnesses.

The marchers were ethnic Hazaras demanding that a major regional electric power line be routed through their impoverished home province. Most Hazaras are Shiite Muslims but most Afghans are Sunni.

Eyewitness Ramin Anwari described seeing up to eight bodies in the Demazang area, where protesters were preparing to set up a camp after a four-hour march. He had no further details.

One of the march organizers Laila Mohammadi said she arrived at the scene soon after the blast and saw "many dead and wounded people."

Footage on Afghan television and photographs posted on social media showed a scene of carnage, with numerous bodies and body parts spread across the square.

Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said police were working to confirm initial reports of the blast.

Violence had been feared at what was the second demonstration by Hazaras over the power line issue. The last one in May attracted tens of thousands of people, also shutting down the central business district.

It was attended by Hazara political leaders, who were notable by their absence on Saturday.

At the height of the march, demonstrators chanted slogans against President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, shouted "death to discrimination" and "all Afghans are equal."

The so-called TUTAP line is backed by the Asian Development Bank with involvement of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The original plan routed the line through Bamiyan province, in the central highlands, where most of the country's Hazaras live.

That route was changed in 2013 by the previous Afghan government. Leaders of the marches have said that the rerouting was evidence of bias against the Hazara community, which accounts for up to 15 percent of Afghanistan's estimated 30 million-strong population.

They are considered the poorest of the country's ethnic groups, and often complain of discrimination. Bamiyan is poverty stricken, though it is largely peaceful and has potential as a tourist destination.

Afghanistan is desperately short of power, with less than 40 percent of the population connected to the national grid, according to the World Bank. Almost 75 percent of electricity is imported.

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