At least 24 killed in suicide bombing in Pakistan

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

At least 24 people were killed and more than 60 were injured when a suicide bomber struck outside a courthouse in the Pakistani city Lahore. The bombing took place at approximately 0700 UTC (1200 local time)

Lahore Police Chief Malik Iqbal says the bombing was aiming at police deployed outside the Lahore courthouse Thursday preparing for an anti-government protest by lawyers.

"This was a suicide attack and the police on duty were the target," he said.

Local television footage showed a chaotic scene outside the courthouse, with the road littered with the dead and injured.

Pakistan has suffered from a wave of bomb attacks in recent months, mostly against the security forces. Hundreds of people have been killed. The government blames Islamic militants linked to al-Qaeda for the attacks.

Two weeks ago opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in a bomb and gunfire attack as she left an election rally in Rawalpindi.

Police Chief Iqbal says security has been tightened, throughout Lahore, following the latest attack.

"A large number of police are deployed...and the entire police (are) under high security alert and a large number of policemen are spread out around Lahore…. And, we are enhancing the security of important personalities," he said.

However, Ayaz Amir, a political analyst, says the continuing violence, coupled with a deepening power crisis, is plunging the nation into chaos.

"It really means a greater slide into chaos. The government is loosing its grip," Amir said. "It doesn't have its grip on anything…They don't have a grip on energy, the power cuts and they don't certainly have a grip on the suicide bombers or whoever is causing mayhem across the country. They don't have a grip on that."

President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency last November and suspended the constitution. He says the extreme measures were necessary to curb rising violence by Islamic militants.

But opponents say his real motive was to dismiss judges who were getting ready to rule that his re-election as president had been illegal. Since then, the nation's lawyers have been among Mr. Musharraf's strongest critics.

The emergency was lifted in December and elections were scheduled for this month. But the three days of rioting that followed the Bhutto assassination prompted Mr. Musharraf to postpone the elections to February 18.