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Suicide attacks kill 51 in Pakistan

Special to The Times

More than 50 people were killed in suicide attacks across Pakistan on Thursday as the violence engulfing this country gave no sign of abating.

Three separate assaults in less than 15 hours hit the north, the south and an area near the volatile tribal region that borders Afghanistan. The fatalities pushed past 150 the number of people who have died violently in the last week, since Islamic militants vowed revenge for a government raid on a radical mosque.

The deadliest of Thursday’s bombings struck a well-protected convoy carrying Chinese engineers through the town of Hub, in lawless Baluchistan province in the south, authorities said. The attacker’s vehicle blew up alongside the convoy in a ball of fire that destroyed four police cars and ripped off the facades of nearby shops. At least 30 people died in the blast.

A local councilor, Abdul Jamil Gichki, told reporters that eight police officers were among the dead. However, the car in which the engineers were riding escaped major damage.

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President Pervez Musharraf, an army general whom Washington considers a key ally in the battle against Islamic militants, denounced the attack. With support for his military rule plunging at home, he appealed to his compatriots to rally around the fight against extremism.

“We have to take the country forward, and with extremist activities, all economic achievements made over the years will go to waste,” Musharraf said.

On Thursday morning, a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden car at the gate of a police academy parade ground in the northern city of Hangu. Six police officers and a civilian were killed.

Later in the day, an attacker blew himself up during evening prayers at a mosque in the northwestern garrison town of Kohat, about 40 miles south of Peshawar in North-West Frontier Province. Authorities said that the blast killed 12 army recruits and two children and injured 15 people.

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As for the attack on the convoy in Hub, it remained unclear whether religious radicalism was the motive. Baluchistan, a region rich in natural resources, is home to a militant secessionist movement made up of local fighters who resent being ruled by the ethnic Punjabis who dominate the government in Islamabad.

Three years ago, a car bombing in Baluchistan killed three Chinese engineers who were working on construction of a deep-water port in the town of Gwadar, up the coast from Karachi, which opened this year.

Suicide attacks have become daily occurrences since last week’s storming of the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, in Islamabad, in which more than 100 people died. The raid led to calls by militants for retaliation and to the renunciation of a 10-month-old cease-fire agreement with the government by militants in the restive North Waziristan region, a stronghold of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters that borders Afghanistan.

Although the peace pact was heavily criticized as too lenient toward the militants, Islamabad is seeking to revive it. On Thursday, a delegation of tribal leaders left Peshawar for Miram Shah, North Waziristan’s main town, to negotiate a return to the truce.

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henry.chu@latimes.com

Special correspondent Zaidi reported from Islamabad and Times staff writer Chu from Colombo, Sri Lanka. Special correspondent Zulfiqar Ali in Peshawar contributed to this report.


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