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Pakistan bombing again targets Islamist party

Attack at a campaign rally of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam party indicates a broadening of targets in the violence aimed at disrupting Saturday's parliamentary elections.

May 07, 2013|By Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times
  • Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N party addresses an election rally from behind bulletproof glass in Jhagra, near Peshawar.
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N party addresses… (Mohammad Sajjad / Associated…)

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — For the second day in a row, a bomb blast killed and maimed participants at a campaign rally being held by one of Pakistan's Islamist religious parties, indicating a broadening of targets in the violence that has primarily taken aim at secular parties competing in parliamentary elections scheduled for Saturday.

Two bombings Tuesday killed at least 15 people and injured more than 40 at campaign rallies in northwestern Pakistan, including one being held by a religious party, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, authorities said. They were the latest in a wave of attacks, largely attributed to the Taliban, that have been aimed at derailing the elections.

Also on Tuesday, cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan suffered a minor head injury after falling from a forklift platform that was raising him to a stage at a rally in the eastern city of Lahore. Khan, whose party is expected to be a major force in the elections, fell 15 to 20 feet. Waleed Iqbal, a leader of Khan's Movement for Justice party, said Khan was conscious and in stable condition at a hospital.

An aide, Asad Umar, said Khan got several stitches but was "in high spirits."

Khan's party, which has called for dialogue with militants, has been spared the attacks that have been directed at several of the country's secular, liberal parties and which had previously excluded religious parties, some of which have long-standing ties with Taliban leaders.

However, the Taliban has condemned the entire electoral process as un-Islamic, and warned voters to stay away from the polls Saturday. The attacks against Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam make it clear that religious parties have also now become targets.

A bomb that detonated Monday at the party's rally in the Kurram tribal region killed 25 people and injured 70. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for that blast.

On Tuesday, authorities said an attacker on a motorcycle drove up to a market in Hangu where a Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam provincial assembly candidate was holding a rally and detonated his explosives. At least 10 people died and 35 were injured. No group immediately claimed responsibility. The candidate, Mufti Said Janan, suffered minor injuries, police said.

Later Tuesday, a bomb killed five people and injured six at a small campaign rally held by a Pakistan People's Party provincial assembly candidate in the Lower Dir region of northwestern Pakistan, authorities said. It was not known whether the candidate, Zameen Khan, was injured, but his brother, Zahir Shah, was killed. Police said a homemade bomb was detonated near Shah's car.

Pakistani Taliban leaders have specifically said they would target candidates and election offices of the Pakistan People's Party, which has ruled the country for five years and is overseen by President Asif Ali Zardari.

Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam is led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, an Islamist hard-line cleric who has been critical of Pakistan's alliance with the United States and is an outspoken proponent of the Afghan Taliban. Despite his opposition to the U.S. and Zardari, Rehman has also been the target of militant violence. In 2011, a suicide bomber tried to assassinate him in a bombing that killed 12 people in the northwestern city of Charsadda. Rehman was not hurt.

Militant attacks on candidates and their rallies have overshadowed campaigning in what will be Pakistan's first democratic transfer of governance from one civilian administration to another. The country has a long history of military takeovers and politically motivated ousters.

Almost all of the campaign violence in the country's volatile northwest has been directed at the Awami National Party, a liberal anti-Taliban group that has governed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province for five years. The party's candidates have abandoned the tactic of holding large public rallies and have limit their campaigns to door-to-door canvassing and small meetings in heavily secured locations.

Despite the violence, the federal government says it will not postpone the elections. It plans to deploy 600,000 security personnel to safeguard 73,000 polling stations nationwide.

alex.rodriguez@latimes.com

Special correspondent Nasir Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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