Nine people were killed Sunday in a suicide car bomb attack on police headquarters in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, a bastion of Taliban militancy, government officials said.
Seven policemen were among those killed in the blast, which also wounded 19 people wounded, according to a statement from the Afghan president's office.
Kandahar is the largest city in southern Afghanistan and the birthplace of the Taliban, who have been waging a bloody insurgency since being ousted from power by the US-led invasion in late 2001 that followed the 9/11 attacks.
"At around noon today (0730 GMT), a suicide car bomber detonated his explosive-packed car in district one of Kandahar", a statement from the interior ministry said.
Blood-splattered items from nearby market stalls lay scattered on the ground after the attack, which destroyed four police cars and damaged nearby buildings, according to an AFP correspondent.
"Targeting areas where there are civilians clearly shows the hostility (of the perpetrators) towards innocent people", President Hamid Karzai said.
Militants frequently target Afghan police and military, who are due to assume responsibility for the country's security from NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops by the end of 2014.
NATO defence ministers on Thursday voiced hope that Afghan forces would take the lead by the end of next year, with foreign troops moving to a backup role until their combat mission ends.
Seven Afghan civilians were killed on January 19 when a suicide attacker targeting ISAF vehicles blew up his car at Kandahar airport -- an attack claimed by the Taliban.
A UN report on Saturday said civilian deaths in Afghanistan reached a record high in 2011 -- the fifth straight year the death toll has gone up.
A total of 3,021 civilians died -- mostly at the hands of insurgents -- up eight percent from 2,790 in 2010, the UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said.
The record loss of life was blamed mainly on changes in the insurgents' tactics, which saw an increased use of homemade bombs and deadlier suicide attacks.
On Sunday the Taliban rejected the report.
"In this report UNAMA has tried to be more political than to focus on human rights," the militants said on their website.
"In the past 10 years the United Nations have continually tried to hide the inhuman crimes of the main perpetrators (foreign forces) of the current war and make their crimes look lawful."
The militants also accused the UN of following US policies in Afghanistan and lacking independence.
"About Afghanistan, most of the time your stance does not differ from that of the White House," they said.
"In some cases UN repeats what the White House says, which makes people think that UN confirms US policies and is not an independent body."
Taliban negotiators have begun holding preliminary talks with US officials in Qatar on plans for peace negotiations aimed at ending the decade-long Afghan war.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is to discuss Afghan peace efforts with the Qatari leadership when he travels to the Gulf state for a visit on Monday.