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Afghan president escapes rocket attack

Afghan President escapes unharmed from a rocket attack, while 60 men, including one NATO soldier but mostly Taliban fighters die.

world Updated: Jun 11, 2007 19:18 IST

Afghan President Hamid Karzai escaped unharmed from a rocket attack in southern Afghanistan, while 60 men, including one NATO soldier but mostly Taliban fighters, were killed in the latest round of violence in the country, officials said on Sunday.

Several rockets hit an open area far from a gathering where Karzai was talking to some 1,000 local elders and residents in Andar district of southern Ghazni province, provincial governor Mehrajuddin Patan told DPA.

"We heard some rocket sounds far from the place we were sitting (at), no one panicked and President Karzai continued his speech without any interruption," Patan said.

He said that the president flew back in a helicopter to the capital following his speech.

However, Taliban spokesman, Qari Mohammad Yousif Ahmadi told DPA by phone from an undisclosed location that their fighters fired 12 rockets at the gathering but he was not aware of any casualties.

"Our mujahideen (fighters) fired 12 rockets at the place where Karzai and some of his cabinet ministers were attending a meeting," Ahmadi said, adding that the area was obscured by clouds of dust thrown up by the blasts and by helicopters that arrived shortly afterwards.

"Columns of dust billowed from the place where the rockets landed and our mujahedeen observed several helicopters hovering in the area," he added.

Karzai visited the province after a sharp surge in Taliban activities in the Ghazni province following the winter lull in the country.

Sunday's attack was the third assassination attempt against Karzai. He escaped another attempt in 2002 in Kandahar while a similar rocket attack missed his helicopter in eastern Paktia province in September 2004.

Meanwhile, Taliban fighters attacked Bala Murgab district of northwestern Badghis province and quickly captured the district on Saturday, said Daoud Kohi, provincial spokesman for the governor.

"The reinforcement was sent to the district and during a six-hour battle the joint forces killed some 30 Taliban and recaptured the district," Kohi said, adding that two police were also killed in the firefight.

Ahmadi said Taliban forces still had control of the town and had killed 10 policemen during a five-hour gun battle.

He added that it was the first time that Taliban forces had captured a district in the northwestern region of the country since the radical regime was ousted by invading US forces in late 2001.

The Afghan Defence Ministry said 27 Taliban fighters were killed in a clash that included air strikes in southern Zabul province on Friday.

The joint forces attacked Taliban hideouts in Shinkay district of the province and killed 27 Taliban, ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi said. US military also said on Saturday that the combined force killed several Taliban militants in Zabul province, but could not provide further details.

A NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) soldier was killed and four others were wounded in combat with suspected insurgents in southern Afghanistan, the military said.