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Roadside bomb kills six civilians

A minibus packed with civilians has struck a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan, killing six on board and wounding nine, officials said.

The blast hit the bus in the Maiwand district of Kandahar province, according to provincial spokesman Zalmai Ayubi.

A Nato patrol arrived soon after the explosion and treated the wounded at the scene, the coalition command said.

US and Nato forces are stepping up operations against the Taliban in Kandahar and nearby Helmand province. July was the deadliest month for US forces in the nearly nine year war, with 66 troops killed. Overall Nato deaths were highest in June, with 103 troops killed.

The escalation in military operations also threatens more civilian casualties, potentially undermining support for the US-led mission among Afghans as well as the public in troop-contributing nations.

In the Afghan capital, Kabul, more than 400 demonstrators marched toward the presidential palace to protest the alleged killing of 52 civilians by a Nato rocket strike in the south. Nato has disputed the number of deaths.

Afghan and Nato representatives are conducting a joint investigation to find out the truth about the attack in Helmand province's Sangin district, but the Afghans gathered in downtown Kabul said they were sure the international forces were to blame.

They carried photos of children allegedly killed or wounded in the strike and shouted "Death to America! Death to Nato!"

In a letter to Nato-led forces, the top US and coalition commander, Gen. David Petraeus, reminded his troops they cannot succeed in turning back the Taliban without "providing them security and earning their trust and confidence".

"The Taliban are not the only enemy of the people," Petraeus said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press. "The people are also threatened by inadequate governance, corruption and the abuse of power - the Taliban's best recruiters."

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