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Taliban suspend talks with U.S.; Karzai calls for faster transition

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban said Thursday that they had suspended negotiations with the United States and Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on international troops to withdraw from villages in the latest apparent fallout from a U.S. soldier’s alleged murder of 16 Afghan villagers.

A statement from Karzai’s office said that he had asked Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who was visiting Afghanistan, to keep international troops in their bases. Karzai also called for transferring security responsibilities from U.S.-led coalition forces to Afghan soldiers and police by 2013, a year earlier than currently scheduled.

The moves had already been part of the Pentagon’s transition plan for Afghanistan, but the statements by Karzai would appear to put more pressure on the Obama administration to wind down the war.

More damaging to the administration’s efforts, perhaps, was the statement by the Taliban saying that it had suspended the opening of its office in the Gulf state of Qatar _ which U.S. officials had described as a breakthrough on the way to a political settlement to the conflict _ because the Americans were “shaky, erratic and vague.”

U.S. officials have held secret talks with the Taliban for months, aiming to help broker an agreement with Karzai’s government, but the insurgent group said that an American representative in their most recent meeting had backtracked on past promises and presented “a list of conditionswhich were not acceptable.”

“The Islamic Emirate has decided to suspend all talks with Americans taking place in Qatar from today onwards until the Americans clarify their stance on the issues concerned,” the statement said.

It is widely believed that the Taliban are seeking the release of prisoners in American custody. The statement said that the U.S. broke its promises by portraying the Taliban as having commenced multilateral talks with Kabul, while the group sees the opening of the Qatar office as merely a preliminary step to test the climate for future talks.

The Taliban described talking to the Kabul administration as “pointless,” and while they made no explicit mention of the rampage that killed 16 villagers in Kandahar province on Sunday, blasted the international troop presence and said that they “will not tolerate it in the present shape norin the shape of permanent bases.”

Separately, 13 Afghan civilians were killed Thursday in the southern province of Uruzgan when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb, local official said.

Nine children and four women are among the dead, said Hamdard, the spokesman for Uruzgan's governor, who like many Afghans uses only one name.

Two more people including a child were wounded in the blast, said Hamdard.

“The roadside bomb went off when the vehicle carrying women and children to a shrine in Dehrawud district of Uruzgan province drove over the planted mine,” said Hamdard.

“This is the act of those who don't want peace and security in the country,” said Hamdard.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

Several hundred people demonstrated in southern Zabul province over the U.S. shooting spree in Kandahar, the provincial police chief said.

Unrest has increased in southern Afghanistan after Sunday's shooting spree. The suspect, a 38-year-old Army staff sergeant, was flown out of Afghanistan on Wednesday and is expected to be charged in the killings.

(Safi is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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