A suicide blast tore through a crowd of men watching dog fighting in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar Sunday, killing 80 people and wounding dozens more, a provincial governor said.
The attack was the deadliest in Afghanistan since the 2001 fall of the Taliban regime, after a suicide bombing in the north in November last year killed 79 people -- most of them school children.
Officials blamed Taliban insurgents for Sunday's blast, which reverberated across the city, but the extremist group did not immediately claim responsibility.
Bodies and limbs lay among bloodied boots, clothes and mobile phones -- some of them ringing -- after the explosion, an AFP reporter said.
Provincial governor Assadullah Khalid told a press conference shortly afterwards that 60 bodies were taken to the city's main hospital, Mirwais, and 20 to other hospitals.
"This suicide attack was the work of Taliban, the enemies of Afghanistan," Khalid said.
"Lots of people have been wounded -- since they have been taken to different hospitals, we don't have a precise figure at this time," he said.
More than 500 people had gathered for the dog-fighting competition, said Abdul Karim, who had been in the crowd to take part in the popular winter pastime, which was banned from 1996 to 2001 under the Taliban government.
"Fighting had just started between two dogs. Suddenly I heard a huge explosion next to a police vehicle. Then I saw lots of people dead and wounded. I counted over 40 people on the ground dead," he told AFP.
Police reinforcements rushed to the scene as civilian and police cars and ambulances ferried the wounded to hospitals. A police officer who asked not to be identified said he had helped to evacuate more than 50 dead and wounded.
Witnesses said the attack bore the hallmarks of previous suicide bombings carried out by Taliban insurgents.
A spokesman for the group, Yousuf Ahmadi, said he could not yet comment on the blast.
Wali Karzai, the brother of President Hamid Karzai and head of the Kandahar provincial council, told AFP he had no doubt the attack had been carried out by the extremist movement.
"Who else would carry out suicide bombings? Obviously the Taliban are the ones carrying out suicide attacks," he said.
The blast was the biggest ever in Kandahar city, he added.
The Taliban, which rose from Kandahar province in the early 1990s, last year carried out around 140 suicide attacks across Afghanistan.
Kandahar city had seen a wave of suicide blasts and other attacks but the strikes tailed off last year.
The last significant attack in the city was in December when a suicide attacker blew up a bomb-filled car near an Afghan army convoy, killing a civilian.
A US aid worker was kidnapped in the city three weeks ago with her driver. No group has publicly admitted to the abduction including the Taliban, who captured dozens of foreigners and Afghans last year, killing some of them.
The last major attack on a crowd gathered for entertainment was in January 2006 when a suicide bomber on a motorcycle blew himself up among men watching a wrestling match in the border town of Spin Boldak near Kandahar.
About 24 people were killed.
NATO-led and US military forces helping the government tackle the violence have been calling for reinforcements ahead of an expected surge in fighting as the weather warms in coming weeks.
Last year was the worst of the Taliban insurgency, with more than 6,000 people killed.