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Truck Bomb Devastates Islamabad Marriott

A truck bomb has devastated the Marriott Hotel in Pakistan's capital city - killing at least 60 people and wounding some 250 others. The blast Saturday evening occurred just several hundred meters from where the country's top officials were dining. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad.

Witnesses at the scene said a truck exploded at the hotel's main gate, where vehicles are screened before entering the compound.

A wounded man at an Islamabad hospital described the attack to reporters. "I was standing in front of the hotel when the truck crashed into the gate and it just started to burn. The men were trying to put it out with fire extinguishers. I moved back into the hotel but it exploded when I was in the lobby."

The blast flattened the main gate, devastated the hotel lobby and rocked buildings as far as a few kilometers away. Gas leaks in the hotel later fueled fires that burned through the upper floors of the building.

Police estimated about 1,000 kilograms of explosives were used in the bomb, which carved out 15 meter wide crater near the hotel entrance.

The heavily guarded Marriott hotel is popular with foreigners and dignitaries. Security has been strengthened in recent years following two previous bomb attacks.

Hotel officials said guards prevented the truck from entering the hotel compound, but the powerful blast still destroyed much of the building.

Several hundred meters away, the country's top officials were dining at the prime minister's house.

Ayaz Amir is a parliament member who was among the officials at the dinner. He described the blast saying " it was so loud that there was, I think, a sudden wave of alarm -- I won't say panic - amongst all of the guests there and I heard many of them say that this was very close."

Both Pakistan's president and prime minister issued statements condemning the attack. Information Minister Sherry Rehman said it would not deter the country's fight against terrorism.

She said that this kind of terrorist attack will neither scare nor deter officials from their resolve to fight terrorism.

Earlier Saturday, Pakistan's President Asif Zardari addressed parliament for the first time since taking office, vowing to use peace deals, development aid and military force to root out militants entrenched in the volatile tribal areas.