Musharraf rules out emergency over attacks

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Wednesday ruled out declaring an emergency in an effort to stem a rising tide of militant attacks that have killed more than 130 people this month, officials said.

In the lastest violence, militants killed 17 soldiers in the North Waziristan region on the Afghan border a day after a suicide bomber killed 16 people in the capital, Islamabad.

Violence has spiralled since government forces stormed Islamabad’s Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, compound last week, ending a week-long siege and killing 75 supporters of hardline clerics.

At the same time as militants are believed to be exacting revenge for the mosque assault, pro-Taliban fighters in North Waziristan have vowed to attack security forces after abandoning a 10-month peace pact.

Army chief Musharraf, an important United States ally, has for months ruled out an emergency to stifle a campaign against his rule by lawyers, angry about Musharraf’s move to dismiss the chief justice, and by the opposition demanding full democracy.

He again ruled out an emergency on Wednesday.

“The president was asked whether an emergency would be imposed because of the growing violence and the president clearly said it would not,” said a senior government official, citing the president in talks with newspaper editors.

Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto—referring to the violence—said on Tuesday she believed “hidden hands” were trying to create a pretext for Musharraf to impose an emergency.

An emergency would mean the postponement of elections due around the end of the year. Musharraf has repeatedly said elections, including a bid by him for a second term, would be on time.

Ambush

The seventeen soldiers were killed while on patrol in the Datta Khel area, 40km west of the region’s main town, Miranshah.

“First there was an IED explosion and then there was an ambush,” the official said, referring to a roadside improvised explosive device, or bomb. Several militants were killed in fighting that followed the ambush, a military official said.

Well over 100 people, most of them police and soldiers, have been killed in suicide blasts and shootings in the north-west of the country this month.

Attacks in Islamabad have been rare but the city police told reporters late on Tuesday he had got information suicide bombers had entered the capital.

Islamabad police stepped up security as the death toll rose to 16 from Tuesday evening’s attack outside a court where the country’s suspended chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, had been due to speak to lawyers.
More than 60 people were wounded.

Chaudhry, who has become a symbol of opposition to President Pervez Musharraf’s eight-year rule, had not arrived at the venue at the time of the blast.

Musharraf, who suspended Chaudhry on March 9 after accusing him of misconduct, condemned the blast and urged the public to stay calm. Pakistan’s main stock index fell more than 3% because of the escalating violence, dealers said.

The Islamabad blast went off close to a stall put up by Bhutto’s opposition Pakistan People’s Party.

One lawyer with the chief justice said he believed the blast was part of the backlash against the Lal Masjid assault and was aimed at the PPP because Bhutto had voiced support for the military action against the militants.

But another lawyer close to Chaudhry said he believed the chief justice had been targeted by state intelligence agencies.

Bhutto said she was certain her party workers had been targeted. - Reuters

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