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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 June, 2003, 12:19 GMT 13:19 UK
Afghan leader meets Blair
Tony Blair and Hamid Karzai (right)
Mr Karzai (right) needs help rebuilding his country
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has held talks in London with Prime Minister Tony Blair on reconstruction efforts in the troubled country.

Mr Karzai, who will also meet Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle, was expected to discuss plans to draft a new constitution and efforts to eradicate heroin production in his country.

He will also call on the international community to provide more financial assistance to Afghanistan.

After meeting Mr Blair in Downing Street, the Afghan leader did not take questions from the media, but he called out that "a lot of things" had been discussed.

The visit comes as officials in Afghanistan say at least 46 people have died in a battle between government forces and suspected Taleban militants in the south of the country, the biggest such clash in more than a year.

The Afghan leader is still beset by security problems at home, but he arrived in London buoyed by a major victory over regional power-brokers.

Fierce battle

After his threat to resign over the failure of provincial governors to hand over millions of dollars in customs duties, money has finally begun to find its way to the capital.

Heroin manufacturer in Kabul
Afghanistan is the world's leading exporter of opium

That has made it possible to pay the salaries of 100,000 soldiers across the country.

However in the south, there are worrying signs that the Taleban is regaining strength - a development which has put many international projects for reconstruction on hold.

On Wednesday government soldiers laid siege to three villages where they knew that the Taleban were hiding.

Following a fierce battle, six government soldiers were killed, but local forces called for reinforcements and another 100 soldiers were sent.

In the six hours that followed, the two sides fought using rocket-propelled grenades and semi-automatic weapons.

Government sources told the BBC that 40 Taleban were killed, including their commander.

The district governor of the area, Said Fazaluddin Agha, said that US-led coalition forces assisted the government side, but a spokesman for the governor of Kandahar said no such forces were involved.

There has also been persistent fighting in recent weeks in the north between key factions.

The British Government has given its support to a provincial reconstruction team in the northern capital of Mazar-e-Sharif and is expected to send 50 military personnel to the turbulent city.

Counter-narcotics campaign

The UK and Afghan leaders are also discussing drugs.

Afghanistan is the world's leading exporter of opium, and its farmers supply 90% of the heroin that hits Britain's streets.

Britain has played a leading role in the counter-narcotics campaign to stop Afghan farmers cultivating poppies.

But this year is still expected to be a bumper crop.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Pam O'Toole
"Mr Karzai is expected to call for further international assistance"



SEE ALSO:
Analysis: Afghan security still key
04 Jun 03  |  South Asia
Karzai wins tax showdown
20 May 03  |  South Asia
Fighting the Afghan heroin trade
21 May 03  |  Europe
Afghan militias agree to unity
21 Apr 03  |  South Asia
Hamid Karzai: Shrewd statesman
14 Jun 02  |  South Asia


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