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US Orders Diplomats Out of Lahore


Pakistani security personnel stand alert outside the US consulate in Lahore, August 9, 2013.

Pakistani security personnel stand alert outside the US consulate in Lahore, August 9, 2013.

The United States has ordered the evacuation of its consulate in the eastern Pakistani city Lahore because of what it calls “specific threats.” The State Department also issued a new travel warning urging all U.S. citizens to defer non-essential travel to Pakistan.

Meghan Gregonis, spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in the Pakistan capital Islamabad, said all non-emergency personnel had been evacuated from the consulate in the eastern city Lahore.

"We have received information regarding a threat to our consulate in Lahore, Pakistan. As a precautionary measure we have undertaken a drawdown for all but emergency personnel in Lahore," she said. "We do not have an announcement at this time on when the consulate will reopen. "

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Gregonis said it was not clear if the threats received against the consulate in Lahore were linked to the al-Qaeda threats that forced the extended closure of 19 US embassies and consulates across the Middle East and Africa.

"At this time the threat is localized, and the embassy here in Islamabad and other consulates are scheduled to reopen on Monday after the (Muslim) Eid holiday," she said.

One senior Pakistani government official told VOA the information on the threat did not come from Pakistan sources. Speaking on condition of anonymity given the senstivity of the situation, the official said Pakistan officials are meeting with American embassy representatives Friday to discuss the situation.

In recent days, Pakistan has increased its own security measures citing concerns around Friday's annual Eid holiday, as well as a recent jailbreak at a prison in the northwest that released more than 200 prisoners, including "dangerous terrorists.”

Omar Hamid Khan, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said the federal government had instructed the provincial authorities to be on alert around prisons and that increased security measures have also been taken around the capital, Islamabad.

"That zone has been fortified, and there have been general alerts issued, there is the airports and some of the sensitive installations are under heavy guard, besides that of course there is heavy surveillance, and aerial surveillance as well, and a general sense of alert in the city," he said.

The U.S. State Department, which issues regular warnings to U.S. citizens traveling to Pakistan, on Thursday reminded its nationals of ongoing security concerns in the country.

It said that the presence of several foreign and indigenous terrorist groups in Pakistan pose a potential danger to U.S. citizens throughout the country. There are frequent terror attacks in Pakistan, against civilian, government and foreign targets, including coordinated assaults on heavily armed Pakistani installations.
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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.

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