Thousands killed in Afghan quake

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A powerful earthquake jolted Afghanistan's remote north-east this week, killing as many as 4,000 people, an Afghan official said yesterday in the first casualty reports to emerge.

The quake hit the city of Rustaq, 150 miles north of the capital, Kabul, destroying 15,000 homes, according to Sher Mohammed, a spokesman for the military alliance that controls the area.

Aftershocks rocked the mountainous area for hours afterwards, he said, speaking by satellite telephone. The US Geological Survey in Golden, Colorado, put the magnitude of Wednesday's quake at 6.1 on the Richter Scale. Mr Mohammed said the landslides at the epicentre caused much of the destruction.

News of the devastation, in the isolated northern province of Tahkar, which borders Tajikistan, reached Kabul only yesterday, and details remained difficult to confirm.

The ousted Afghan President, Burhanuddin Rabbani, who leads the anti- Taliban alliance that controls the area affected by the quake, has appealed for urgent help from the United Nations and the Red Cross.

- AP, Kabul