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Jan 11, 2008
26 killed in suicide attack on Pakistan police
LAHORE, Pakistan (AFP) - At least 22 police and four civilians were killed in a suicide bomb attack Thursday outside the high court in the commercial heart of Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city.
The bomber triggered a device packed with ball bearings when police stopped him outside the court, two weeks to the day after the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in a gun and suicide bomb attack.
Up to 60 people, many of them police officers, were rushed to hospital after the explosion in the city's main commercial district, the latest in a wave of suicide attacks that have killed hundreds across Pakistan over the past year.
Dead police officers, dressed in full riot gear with protective vests and helmets, were seen lying side-by-side where they had fallen. A dead horse, still attached to a vendor's cart, lay nearby.
"Twenty-two policemen died in the attack, six are critically wounded," Lahore police chief Malik Iqbal told AFP.
"Around 35 have minor injuries. The suicide bomber approached the police picket and was signalled to stop," Iqbal said.
Hospital sources said four civilians were also killed in the blast.
The blast ripped through a busy square in front of the Lahore High Court as about 60 riot police gathered ahead of a protest by lawyers against the rule of President Pervez Musharraf.
"It was a very loud blast. I was one of the first who rushed out of the court and I saw a man bleeding from his nose and his mouth. He died minutes later," said lawyer Khurram Latif Khosa.
"I saw about 50 to 60 injured police, bleeding, scattered everywhere. They were asking for water. There were body parts on the ground."
A wounded officer with his clothes apparently blown off by the force of the blast lay in the street screaming for help as security forces scrambled to cordon off the downtown area.
Police said the head of the suspected suicide bomber had been found about 100 metres (330 feet) from the blast site, which was littered with the dead and wounded.
After visiting the blast site Inspector General of Punjab Police Nasim Ahmed told reporters: "The target was the police force.
"Today's bombing was to demoralise the Punjab police, but it will not. They have given their lives while performing their duty."
Police are bracing for more violence during the holy month of Moharram, a time of high tension between Pakistan's minority Shiite and majority Sunni communities.
More than 800 people have been killed in attacks -- mainly suicide bombings targeting the security forces -- in Pakistan over the past year, making 2007 the deadliest for militant violence in the country's history.
The unrest has fuelled international fears for the stability of the nuclear-armed Islamic republic, a strategic US ally in the "war on terror", ahead of crucial general elections set for February 18.
The polls were delayed for six weeks after the assassination of Bhutto, a passionate defender of secular democracy whose murder at an election rally sparked days of deadly rioting across the country.
Information Minister Nisar Memon said the latest bombing was part of a terrorist campaign to disrupt the elections and derail democracy in the Muslim country of some 160 million people.
"But we want to make it very clear that elections will be held as scheduled," he told state television.
Thursday's attack is the first suicide bombing in Lahore, a relatively prosperous and secure city of about seven million people in Punjab province, since the wave of attacks began last year.
Musharraf seized power in a military coup in 1999 but has faced mounting calls for his resignation and a return to full civilian rule since he suspended the supreme court chief justice on charges of misconduct in March.
The move triggered weeks of street protests led by lawyers until the court reinstated the chief justice and dismissed all charges against him.
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