News and Information

Karzai aborts visit after blast
September 16, 2004
President Hamid Karzai has cut short a visit in south-eastern Afghanistan after a suspected rocket attack near an air base where he was arriving.
President Karzai's helicopters were landing at an air base near Gardez in Paktia province when an explosion was heard, a president spokesman said.

He was due to open a new road and school in Gardez.

President Karzai's American bodyguards decided to abort the visit and fly him back to the capital, Kabul.

The BBC's Andrew North in Kabul says that Paktia province has been an area of frequent attacks by suspected Taleban militants who have vowed to disrupt the country's 9 October elections.

It is believed that the rocket landed one to two kilometres away from the air base where President Karzai was about to land.

It is not known who fired the rocket. No one was hurt, either on the ground or in the air, president spokesman Jawed Ludin told the Associated Press.

Heavy security

American spokesman Major Mark McCann told Associated Press that the rocket landed just 300 metres from where the helicopter was supposed to land.

President Karzai rarely leaves Kabul because of security risks
"The president was not in any imminent danger," Mr McCann said.

A spokesman for the president told the BBC that the private American security guards who protect the Afghan leader immediately decided to take off again.

He said that the visit to Gardez was not related to the election campaign, but an official government trip.

Correspondents say President Karzai was reportedly very disappointed over not being able to complete the visit.

One official suggested to the BBC that his security team may have over reacted in pulling out.

President Karzai has rarely been seen outside his heavily-fortified presidential compound since he survived an assassination attempt by suspected Taleban members in Kandahar in 2002.

His critics say he has little control of events much beyond the capital, Kabul, where the country's ethnic warlords again hold sway.

And since last summer, violence by militants opposed to the US-backed administration he runs has sharply risen - with many of their attacks targeting election workers and voters.


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