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MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A suicide bomber killed a prominent anti-Taliban politician and 22 other guests at a wedding reception in the northern Afghan province of Samangan on Saturday, officials said.
The bomber blew himself up as he hugged lawmaker Ahmad Khan Samangani, who was celebrating his daughter's marriage, police said. The blast also killed the provincial intelligence chief and a senior police commander.
Samangani was close to Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, and commanded thousands of men in the area. The Uzbeks are part of an uneasy coalition of minority tribes that fight the Taliban in their area.
The attack, among the most lethal in recent months, raises the risk of greater insecurity in the relatively peaceful province, analysts said.
At least 23 people were killed and 60 others wounded, said a statement from President Hamid Karzai condemning the attack.
"The enemies of Afghanistan once again targeted mujahideen figures who strive for national unity," Karzai said.
The wounded were in critical condition and the death toll could rise, said regional police spokesman Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai.
Samangani had told guards at the party not to inconvenience guests with security searches, said provincial police chief Khalil Andarabi.
The Taliban, which has been behind a series of suicide attacks this year, denied responsibility. The group often distances itself from attacks with high civilian death tolls.
"We don't have a hand in this," spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said. "Ahmad Khan (Samangani) was a former commander of the mujahideen, he was notorious and many people could have had problems with him."
Samangani, an ethnic Uzbek, fought against the Soviets in the 1980s, and against the Taliban during their 1996-2001 rule. He may have had enemies other than the Taliban, said Kabul-based political analyst Waheed Mujhda.
"Former warlords have frequently been targeted in the past," he said. "Ahmad Khan Samangani was a strongman in terms of security for Samangan province. His loss will certainly affect security in that region."
Witnesses described scenes of carnage.
"I saw parts of bodies, blood all over the reception," said Ahmad Jawed, a guest at the wedding. "Many wounded people were crying for help."
Another witness, Barat Khan, said: "It took some 15 minutes for the smoke to clear, then I saw bodies and pools of blood."
Afghanistan is experiencing some of the worst violence since the Taliban government was toppled by U.S.-led Afghan forces more than a decade ago.
In a separate incident on Saturday, a police official was gunned down in the southern city of Kandahar, the governor's spokesman said.
On Friday, a car bomb killed a leading female politician, Hanifa Safi. No one has claimed responsibility.
Additional reporting by Mohammad Hamed and Miriam Arghandiwal in Kabul; Writing by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Daniel Magnowski