Gunmen attack Pakistani post near US consulate

Suspected Islamist militants attacked a Pakistani checkpost near the United States consulate in Peshawar on Monday, hours after a suicide bomber killed 38 people elsewhere in the north-west, officials said.

The attacks underscore the danger posed by militants in the nuclear-armed US ally after a year of military offensives which have dealt the Islamists significant setbacks.

The attack on the consulate came hours after the bomb blast at a gathering of supporters of an ethnic Pashtun-based political party staunchly opposed to the militants.

“I saw attackers in two vehicles. Some of them carried rocket-propelled grenades. They first opened fire at security personnel at the post near the consulate and then blasts went off,” city resident Siraj Afridi told Reuters.

Other residents said there was an initial blast in the neighbourhood of the US consulate and they later heard two other blasts and rifle fire in the same area.

The US Embassy in Islamabad said it had no information.

The blasts threw clouds of white smoke into the sky and residents said soldiers had cordoned off the scene and ordered people to remain in doors.

Security force helicopters hovered overhead.

A doctor at the main hospital in Peshawar, which is the gateway to Afghanistan and has seen a string of bomb attacks over the past year, said one person had been killed and one wounded.

Security forces were hunting the attackers, an official said.

“There were three blasts. The first happened at a security post while two others about 200 metres away, near the consulate,” a security official in Peshawar, who declined to be identified, told Reuters by telephone.

“We don’t know exactly whether any attackers are left. The area has been cordoned off and forces are clearing it,” he said.

‘Taliban desperate’
A suspected suicide bomber blew himself up at a meeting of the Awami National Party (ANP), in the Lower Dir district, about 80km north-east of Peshawar, killing 38 people, a hospital doctor said.

Police said the bomber tried to get into the ground where the ANP, which heads a coalition government in North West Frontier Province, was holding a meeting but he was stopped and blew himself up.

The ANP, which is also a member of the ruling federal coalition government, is a largely secular party and opposes the militants battling the state.

Pakistani Taliban militants have attacked ANP gatherings before.

The meeting was called to celebrate the renaming of NWFP, which the party has long demanded. Under constitutional amendments expected to be approved in Parliament this week, the province will be renamed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, in a bid to represent its dominant Pashtun population.

“The Taliban have lost the battle and now, out of desperation, they are carrying out such cowardly attacks,” said Haji Mohammad Adeel, an ANP senator.

The long-awaited constitutional amendments, which will also transfer President Asif Ali Zardari’s sweeping powers to the prime minister, are due to be taken up in the National Assembly on Tuesday.

The amendments should ease opposition to the unpopular Zardari and promote political stability in the nuclear-armed US ally, analysts say.

Zardari is due to address Parliament later on Monday in the capital, Islamabad, where security has been stepped up for the session. – Reuters

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