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Blasts at Afghan cricket match kill eight spectators

JALALABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Eight people were killed and dozens more wounded by multiple explosions at a cricket match in the eastern city of Jalalabad late on Friday night, officials said.

The blasts occurred after evening prayers at a football stadium in the city that was hosting a cricket match at the start of the holy month of Ramadan, Sohrab Qaderi, a member of the provincial council, said.

Cricket, brought to Afghanistan by migrants and refugees who learned the game in neighboring Pakistan, has become an increasingly popular sport, particularly in the east of the country.

A statement from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said there had been four explosions, two inside the stadium and two outside, apparently timed to hit those fleeing the initial blast.

Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the provincial governor of Nangarhar, said eight spectators were killed and 43 wounded by at least three back-to-back explosions.

“I am outraged by this attack that used four bombs carefully calculated to kill and maim civilians watching a cricket match,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the top UN official in Afghanistan.

“This cold and brutal act can have no justification whatsoever; those responsible must be held accountable.”

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the Taliban issued a statement denying its involvement.

Nangarhar, on the border with Pakistan, has seen growing violence this year, most recently last week when a coordinated attack on the state accounts office killed at least 15 people in an attack claimed by Islamic State.

Last week, the provincial governor was dismissed over deteriorating security in the province, which has become a stronghold for Islamic State fighters as well as the Taliban.

Friday’s attack came as the Taliban has stepped up its campaign against the government in Kabul, with attacks on district and provincial centers in regions ranging from Badakhshan and Baghlan in the north to Farah in the west and Ghazni south of Kabul.

The attacks have undermined confidence in the government as it continues preparations for parliamentary elections due in October.

Reporting by Qadir Sediqi; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Sandra Maler and Ros Russell