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Violence Continues to Spread in Pakistan; Musharraf Refuses to Call State of Emergency

  • Benjamin Sand

Militants in northwestern Pakistan have ambushed a security convoy and killed at least 17 soldiers - less than a day after a suicide bomber killed 16 people in Islamabad. Despite the spreading unrest, Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf has declined to declare a state of emergency. VOA'S Benjamin Sand reports from the Pakistani capital.

Pakistan's military spokesman, Major General Waheed Arshad, says the latest attack occurred Wednesday morning in the North Waziristan Tribal Agency, not far from the Afghan border.

The tribal area is considered a major stronghold for pro-Taleban and al-Qaida militants.

Arshad says the firefight killed 10 soldiers on the spot. He says the militants also suffered heavy casualties, but removed their dead before government forces could investigate.

A series of bomb attacks in the tribal region has killed more than a hundred people in the past week. On Tuesday, meanwhile, a bomb blast ripped through an anti-government rally in the capital, killing at least 16 people.

The surging violence follows a controversial government raid last week on a radical, pro-Taleban mosque in Islamabad. At least 75 people were killed after commandos stormed the complex and fought pitched battles with heavily armed militants inside.

The bloodshed has intensified the political pressure on Pakistan's already-embattled president, General Pervez Musharraf.

Tuesday's bombing here in Islamabad was apparently aimed at political activists waiting to hear a speech by the country's former chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry.

Mr. Musharraf suspended the judge on March 9. The firing has galvanized anti-government sentiment, and Chaudhry has been traveling around the country giving speeches critical of the president.

State run media reported Wednesday that the president strongly condemned the Islamabad bombing. He told newspaper editors that the government is in "direct confrontation" with extremist forces.

The head of Pakistan's crisis management office, Brigadier Javed Iqbal Cheema, told reporters Tuesday evening that the government has no intention of backing down.

"The government is doing all it can to prevent such nefarious acts by the terrorists," he said. "We expect the entire nation to extend its full cooperation to the law enforcement agencies in dealing with this threat."

Despite the rising violence, Mr. Musharraf reportedly ruled out declaring a state of emergency Wednesday. The president, who seized power in a military coup in 1999, faces national elections later this year, and he was quoted as saying the elections will be held on time.

U.S. officials say Washington will continue to back Mr. Musharraf's fight against extremist elements.

The United States recently announced plans to invest more than $750 million in health, education and economic projects in the tribal areas where much of the violence is taking place.

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