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GHAZNI, Afghanistan (AP) - Cheering crowds stood atop buildings and lined the streets to greet Afghan President Hamid Karzai on a one-day visit Thursday to this restive town, a hotbed of suspected Taliban activity.

Karzai hopped out of a motorcade several blocks from the governor's mansion, moving through the crowd, his arms raised as the throngs pressed around him. He also mounted a horse to play the traditional game of bushkazi.

It was a meaningful show by the populist president whose government controls only the capital, Kabul, which is patrolled by a 5,000-man international peacekeeping force. Most of Afghanistan, however, is ruled by warlords.

The United Nations ordered U.N. personnel to avoid all road missions from Ghazni province south to Kandahar after gunmen in nearby Zabul province ambushed a convoy of U.N. deminers.

Karzai's chief of staff, Said Tayeb Jawad, said the Ghazni visit was part of the president's efforts to meet with his people and assess their needs.

"He came to find out how the reconstruction process is going and what the people need," said Jawad, who was with Karzai on the trip. "We'll be doing this in all of the provinces."

Security was extremely tight.

Karzai arrived in a field outside town aboard a Chinook helicopter, which was escorted by two U.S. attack helicopters on the 30-minute flight. His U.S. bodyguards were omnipresent as the president moved through the town, and several armed bodyguards looked down from the roof of the two-story governor's mansion while Karzai was inside.

After meeting with Gov. Asadullah Khalid, Karzai was to visit a television station and a school in Ghazni, 95 miles southwest of the capital, according to Malang Shah, a security official at the palace.

Afghanistan is recovering from more than two decades of war that has left its infrastructure in tatters. Foreign donors have flooded into the country to help in reconstruction, but the task is monumental.

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Karzai has been pushing provincial governors to begin paying customs revenues to the cash-strapped central government. But the president has little military power to enforce his administration's policy.

In eastern Afghanistan, meanwhile, rebel fighters fired rockets at a base housing American and Afghan troops in Gardez, but there were no casualties or damages, U.S. and Afghan officials said Thursday.

Rockets are fired at U.S. troops bases in Afghanistan almost every day, but they rarely hit targets or cause casualties. Usually, they are fired from crude homemade launchers and are difficult to aim.

Near Kabul, a German peacekeeper was killed and another wounded Thursday when their vehicle hit a land mine, a spokesman for international peacekeepers said.

About 11,500 coalition troops, the majority of them American, are in Afghanistan carrying out operations in search of Taliban rebels and their allies. The Taliban, who gave support to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist organization, were overthrown in a U.S.-led war in 2001.

Copyright © 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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