Karzai aborts visit after rocket attack

Afghan President Hamid Karzai aborted an election campaign trip to the southeast province of Gardez on Thursday after a rocket exploded just before he was due to land by helicopter.

    Karzai survived an assassination attempt in 2002

    The rocket exploded near a school about 2km from

    where the US military helicopter in which he was travelling

    was preparing to touch down. There were no injuries.

    Karzai was named interim president in 2002 after a US-led

    invasion toppled the Taliban government

    .

    He faces 17 rivals in the 9 October vote - the

    first direct presidential poll in Afghan history.

    The Taliban has vowed to disrupt the elections, which the

    US-backed incumbent is favourite to win, and has threatened

    all candidates.

    Karzai narrowly escaped an assassination attempt on 5 September

    2002, in the southern city of Kandahar, after

    which his security was dramatically tightened.

    Assassination attempt

    He has rarely been seen in Afghanistan outside his heavily

    fortified presidential palace where he is protected by US

    bodyguards.

    Presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin said Karzai had returned

    safely to Kabul and the incident was under investigation.

    "It's too early to say who did it and what the motivation

    was ... It would be premature to conclude there was a

    direct link to the president landing there"

    Jawed Ludin,
    presidential spokesman

    He said the rocket landed in the village of Rabat at about

    the same time Karzai's helicopter was coming in nearby, but it

    would be premature to say it was an assassination attempt.

    "It's too early to say who did it and what the motivation

    was," he said. "It would be premature to conclude there was a

    direct link to the president landing there.

    "It was really quite a long distance away from the landing

    ground, but the security obviously reacted and made a decision

    not to land.

    "The president is disappointed not to have been able to

    attend the occasions he wanted to attend."

    Elections

    The Gardez trip was a rare visit to the provinces by

    Karzai.

    A spokesman for the US-led military force in Afghanistan

    said it had no details of the incident.

    "We are investigating," he said.

    Official campaigning for the election has been largely low

    key with none of the large rallies and parades seen in other

    countries.

    More than 10.5 million Afghans
    have registered to vote

    The poll is seen as a crucial test of US nation-building

    efforts ahead of President George Bush's own bid for

    re-election in November.

    The vote has been delayed twice, partly because of growing

    insecurity. About 1000 people including aid workers, fighters

    , civilians and Afghan and foreign troops have been

    killed in violence in the past year.

    More than 10.5 million people from a population of between

    25 million and 28 million have registered to vote, far

    surpassing expectations but leading to allegations of multiple

    registrations.

    Victory requires 51% of the vote, otherwise a

    run-off will be called, which could delay the result until

    November.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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