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Pakistani Military Strikes Militants amid Anti-Taliban Protests

Pakistan's military has launched more attacks against the Taliban, as supporters of a prominent cleric demonstrated against the militant group.

Pakistani warplanes pounded militant hideouts throughout the northwest Saturday, following two suicide bombings a day earlier that killed at least seven people, including Sarfraz Naeemi, a moderate cleric and outspoken critic of the Taliban.

Thousands of Naeemi's supporters took to the streets of Lahore and Karachi Saturday to mark his funeral, chanting "death to the Mujahideen." Others beat and burned an effigy of a Taliban insurgent.

Military officials say at least seven militants were killed in the air strikes targeting the South Waziristan tribal region, where Taliban-linked militant leader Baitullah Mehsud is based.

Mehsud's group has claimed responsibility for the bombings. Hours after the attacks, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari went on TV, warning Pakistan was fighting the Taliban for its very existence and vowed to fight them "to the end."

In addition to Friday's attacks on mosques in the eastern city of Lahore and the northwestern town of Nowshera, a spokesman for Mehsud also claimed responsibility for Tuesday's bombing of Peshawar's Pearl Continental hotel that killed nine people.

Pakistan has been hit by a series of attacks that some officials suspect are revenge for a government offensive against militants in the northwestern region of Swat Valley.

The military launched the offensive in late April after Taliban militants violated a peace deal and advanced to within 100 kilometers of the capital, Islamabad.

U.S. officials say Pakistan is planning a new offensive in South Waziristan, which borders Afghanistan. But Pakistan's government has yet to formally announce a military operation in the tribal region.

Saturday, police said an officer was killed and at least eight others wounded when a roadside bomb hit a prison van in the northwestern town of Kohat.

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