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Pakistan's Army Battles Taliban 100 KM from Capital

Pakistani troops battled Taliban militants for a third day in Buner district, as security forces work to push Islamic extremists from their foothold about 100 kilometers from the capital, Islamabad.

A Pakistani army spokesman, Major General Athar Abbas, said Thursday that troops have ousted militants from a strategic pass in the northwest, but the Taliban fighters still control parts of Buner district.

He said militants have kidnapped dozens of police officers and paramilitary troops, and security forces have killed 14 militants in a 24-hour period.

The military launched this latest offensive in Malakand region Sunday, in the district of Lower Dir, after Taliban militants advanced from their stronghold in Swat.

In separate violence, ethnic clashes in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi have left at least 34 people dead and added to security concerns.

Paramilitary troops patrolled the streets of Karachi Thursday, and all schools have been ordered closed.

A spokesman for the paramilitary force said more than 25 suspects have been arrested in connection with the violence that broke out one day earlier.

Gunfire erupted in Karachi Wednesday, as tensions flared between Pashtuns from the northwest who support the Awami National Party and Urdu-speaking people with Indian roots who support the rival Muttahida Qaumi Movement.

In a statement late Wednesday, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said the "time has come for the entire nation to give pause to their political differences." He emphasized the need to keep Pakistan as a "moderate, modern and democratic state."

Officials in North West Frontier Province have urged militants in Malakand to honor their pledge to lay down their arms after the government agreed to impose strict Islamic law (Sharia) there.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.