Pakistan Suicide Blasts Kill 51

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 26, 2005

KARACHI, Pakistan – Pakistan’s turmoil spread from the Afghan frontier to the south, where a suicide bomber struck a convoy carrying Chinese workers _ one of three suicide attacks that killed at least 51 people Thursday.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf called for national unity against extremists enraged by the army’s bloody assault on Islamabad’s Red Mosque.

Suicide attacks, bombings and shootings and the siege of the mosque, which had mounted a Taliban-style anti-vice campaign challenging the government’s authority, have killed about 285 people in Pakistan so far this month, raising concern about the threat posed by Islamic extremists.

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In the deadliest attack Thursday, a car bomber targeting a minibus carrying about 10 Chinese technicians pulled up to their convoy as it was passing through the main bazaar in Hub, a town in Baluchistan province near the southern city of Karachi.

It blew up next to a police vehicle escorting the foreign workers, killing 29 people _ 22 Pakistani civilians and seven police officers. Thirty other people were wounded, said Hub police chief Ghulam Mohammed Thaib.

Maj. Gen. Saleem Nawaz, a commander of the paramilitary Frontier Constabulary, considered the outcome fortunate.

“It was laden with very heavy explosives, but due to our spacing and our security measures, Allah has been very kind,” Nawaz said on Dawn News television.

The police “sacrificed their lives and the Chinese friends were absolutely safe,” he said.

The blast ripped off the front of several roadside shops. Several damaged cars and buses lay rammed into one another among a tangle of bricks and clothing.

Then late Thursday, a suicide attacker detonated a bomb at a mosque in an army camp in the northwestern town of Kohat, killing at least 15 people, officials said. According to a special branch police officer, about 30 people were wounded.

The blast went off as trainee soldiers held evening prayers. District chief Sedh Ghoar said the wounded included at least two children.

Earlier, a suicide car bomber detonated his explosives when guards prevented him from entering the parade ground of the police academy in another northwestern town, Hangu, 45 miles southwest of Peshawar.

The bomber killed six bystanders and one policeman, and 24 othe people were wounded, academy chief Attaullah Wazir said. Several hundred trainees were receiving instruction on the parade ground at the time, he said.

The spate of bombings, the deepest security crisis faced by Musharraf since he seized power in 1999, has also begun to weigh on Pakistan’s capital markets, suggesting it could soon threaten the strong economic growth that is one of the general’s proudest boasts.

The Karachi Stock Exchange’s main share index fell by about 3.4 percent Thursday, extending a slide begun the previous day, with analysts saying the violence scared off investors.

“We have to take the country forward, and with extremist activities all economic achievements made over the years will go to waste,” Musharraf told a gathering of students in Islamabad.

He urged the country to unite against “a few misguided elements bent upon killing their fellow Muslims,” according to the official news agency Associated Press of Pakistan.

Much of the violence has been in North West Frontier Province, especially North Waziristan, where pro-Taliban militants last weekend declared the end of a 10-month-old peace deal. The government has since been trying to revive it.

On Thursday, 30 elders from several tribal regions of the northwest traveled to North Waziristan in the latest government-backed effort to persuade militants to halt the violence.

“Our urgent demand is that there should be a cease-fire so that we can find a peaceful solution to this problem in a peaceful atmosphere according to tribal traditions,” said the group’s leader Malik Waris Khan Afridi.

Musharraf insists the accord _ under which the military scaled back its operations in the U.S.-led war on terror in return for pledges from tribal leaders to contain militancy _ offers the best long-term hope of pacifying the region.

However, U.S. officials warn the pact has given al-Qaida new opportunities to strengthen their operations in Pakistan, Afghanistan and beyond.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s suspended chief justice pressed a court to overturn Musharraf’s decision to suspend him, or risk casting Pakistan further toward political instability.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry’s legal battle with Musharraf has damaged the general’s standing and galvanized opposition to military rule ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections due within six months.

A verdict on his appeal against Musharraf’s decision to suspend him and have a judicial tribunal investigate him for misconduct is expected on Friday.

Chaudhry’s chief counsel warned the court Thursday that failure to reinstate the judge “will create more instability.”

Associated Press writers Abdul Sattar in Quetta, Riaz Khan in Peshawar, and Munir Ahmad and Sadaqat Jan in Islamabad contributed to this report.

A service of the Associated Press(AP)