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23 killed, dozens hurt in Pakistani border region

Two attacks raise the toll to more than 250 as militants seek revenge for mosque assault.

August 05, 2007|Laura King | Times Staff Writer

PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN — New violence flared Saturday in Pakistan's rugged border region, where a suicide bombing and an attack on an army checkpoint left at least 23 people dead and dozens injured.

More than 250 people have been killed in a wave of bombings and other attacks since government forces stormed a radical mosque last month in the capital, Islamabad.

Insurgent groups, many of which have their bases in the tribal belt straddling the Afghan border, have vowed to exact vengeance for the mosque assault, which left more than 100 people dead.

President Pervez Musharraf is under heavy pressure from the Bush administration to rein in the militants. But in his politically weakened state, some observers have questioned his commitment to an all-out battle in the frontier region.

The suicide bomber, driving a car packed with explosives, struck near a busy bus station in the town of Parachinar, capital of the Kurram tribal area, which had been unaffected by the fighting. The bomber apparently tried to ram the car into a bus packed with passengers but hit a vehicle next to it.

At least nine people were killed and more than 40 hurt in the blast, local officials said. Some of the most seriously injured were taken to Peshawar, capital of the North-West Frontier Province, for treatment.

In the semiautonomous tribal region of North Waziristan, where a cease-fire pact between militants and the government broke down last month, insurgents attacked a security checkpoint before dawn, setting off a firefight that left four soldiers and 10 militants dead.

Such attacks have become more brazen in recent weeks, and insurgents are using increasingly sophisticated weaponry, military officials said.

Also Saturday, a senior opposition leader was released from prison a day after the Supreme Court granted him bail while it reviews his case.

Javed Hashmi, who had spent four years behind bars, emerged to the cheers of supporters in the city of Lahore.

A vociferous critic of Musharraf, Hashmi had been convicted of inciting mutiny and sentenced to 23 years in prison. Confrontation has been brewing for months between Musharraf, an army general who seized power in a coup eight years ago, and an emboldened pro-democracy movement that has demanded that he relinquish his military role or step aside.

Hashmi, a member of the party of exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, said he would immediately join forces with those seeking to oust Musharraf.

"There will be no compromise with dictators," he told reporters outside the jail. "I will only consider myself a free man when the entire nation will get freedom from these generals."

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