Afghan police locked in gun battle near presidential palace

Taliban militants struck the heart of the Afghan government in Kabul today, prompting fierce gun battles after a suicide bomber blew himself up near the presidential palace.

Taliban militants struck the heart of the Afghan government in Kabul today, prompting fierce gun battles after a suicide bomber blew himself up near the presidential palace.

More explosions rocked the capital as Afghan troops fought off the attackers.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said that 20 armed militants, including some with suicide vests, had entered Kabul to target the presidential palace and other government buildings.

It was the latest attack showing the insurgents' ability to penetrate the heavily secured city - even near the presidential palace and government ministries.

Militants have become increasingly brazen in challenging Afghan and international forces as the US and Nato allies begin sending 37,000 more troops to join the fight.

Police sealed off a large area in the centre of Kabul as the clash of machine-gun fire echoed through the city.

One group of militants entered a supermarket after throwing grenades inside to frighten shoppers, Interior Ministry spokesman Zemari Bashary said.

"The area is surrounded by security forces," he said. "A gun battle is going on."

Mohib Safi, deputy governor of the Afghanistan Central Bank, said bank employees heard a loud explosion followed by gunfire.

Another huge explosion was heard less than two hours later at an intersection between the Foreign Ministry and the Education Ministry.

Afghan security forces surrounded the area, and fighting between the two sides was continuing. Ambulances transported the wounded from the scene.

Nato said international forces were working with Afghan troops to secure the area.

The attack unfolded on a day in which confirmed Cabinet members were to be sworn in by President Hamid Karzai despite the rejection by parliament of the majority of his choices.

His spokesman, Waheed Omar, said the president would announce caretakers for the vacant posts.

Police sealed off a large area in the centre of Kabul as the clash of machine-gun fire echoed through the mountain-rimmed city. Helicopters buzzed overhead. A car that exploded between a shopping centre and the Ministry of Education burned in the street.

One group of militants entered the shopping centre after throwing grenades inside to frighten shoppers, Interior Ministry spokesman Zemari Bashary said.

Nato said Afghan troops had killed at least two armed insurgents while clearing a building at a shopping centre.

The Public Health Ministry reported at least nine people were wounded.

A statement on a Taliban website said militants entered Kabul to target government buildings and were engaged in clashes with Afghan government forces.

Smoke rose from the heart of the Afghan capital and gunbattles raged in the city after an explosion.

Officials said a group of suicide bombers apparently entered the city and that one of them blew himself up near the presidential palace.

The attacks highlight insurgents’ ability to penetrate the heavily secured city near the presidential palace and government ministries.

Militants have become increasingly brazen in challenging Afghan and international forces as the US and Nato allies begin sending 37,000 more troops to join the fight.

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