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Afghan Shootout Over Opium

Afghanistan's government will press on with plans to destroy opium crops across the country, a senior official said Wednesday, a day after a shootout between anti-drug forces and farmers left one dead and seven injured.

Eradication has been halted for talks on Wednesday with elders from the area of southern Kandahar province where the clash occurred, Deputy Interior Minister Gen. Mohammed Daoud (search) told The Associated Press.

But he said U.S.-trained counter-narcotics forces would resume destroying opium poppy fields on Thursday.

"It will start again tomorrow," Daoud said. "We are going to carry this out all over the country, not just in this district or province."

President Hamid Karzai (search) has announced a crackdown on the country' narcotics industry, which last year produced 87 percent of the world's opium, the raw material for heroin, sparking warnings that it is turning into a "narco-state" three years after U.S. forces ended its role as a base for Al Qaeda.

Countries including the United States, Britain and France are training new police units to destroy crops, smash heroin laboratories and arrest smugglers, while providing hundreds of millions of dollars to help farmers switch to legal crops.

But it is expected to take years to replace a lucrative crop which has powered Afghanistan's post-Taliban revival and provided a lifeline to war-impoverished rural communities.

Officials said Tuesday's shootout began after more than 1,000 people blocked the main road near Maywand, 50 miles west of Kandahar city, to protest the arrival of tractors escorted by Afghan security forces to destroy their poppy fields.

One civilian was killed and six others injured, police said. One member of the eradication force was also reported hurt.

Daoud said the Maywand (search) area had been targeted for the first eradication operation because its warm climate meant poppy crops would soon be ready for harvest.