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Missile muscle for Pervez

Islamabad, March 19 (Agencies): Calling today's test-firing of the Shaheen-II missile as a 'milestone', President Pervez Musharraf said Pakistan has now crossed the minimum deterrence level.

'Our scientists have achieved a milestone with today's successful test as it involved two stage motor separation,' Musharraf, who watched the missile test, said.

Without directly referring to India, Musharraf said Pakistan had followed minimum deterrence levels in conventional and nuclear areas. 'We have assessed the threats and quantified deterrence level in nuclear and conventional areas. Today, we have crossed the minimum deterrence level'.

The surface-to-surface ballistic missile is capable of hitting targets deep into Indian territory and West Asia. 'We were expecting 0.1 accuracy and we achieved 0.05 per cent accuracy. It's a big milestone,' he said adding that with this achievement Pakistan could 'move' into space technology and Space Launch Vehicle (SLV) programmes.

The Pakistan military had informed all neighbouring countries about the test in advance ' a practice also followed by India. Pakistan first successfully tested a nuclear weapon in 1998.

Musharraf said the country's nuclear programme had broad public support and was a matter of the highest national importance.

'The nation's nuclear capability... was developed for Pakistan's own security and will continue to receive the highest national priority,' Musharraf said.

'The capability is here to stay and we will continue to go from strength to strength and no harm will ever be allowed to come to it,' he said. The launch was successful, the military said. 'The test was carried out to verify some of the refined parameters,' they added.

Pilgrims killed

At least 41 pilgrims travelling to a Muslim shrine in Pakistan were killed when a flash flood swept away their tractor-trailer, officials said today.

It was not immediately clear how many people were on the trailer when the flood, caused by torrential rain, hit late yesterday and the toll could rise as villagers search for more victims.

'We have, so far, recovered 41 bodies,' local police official Hafiz Mohammad Yusuf said by telephone from Dera Ghazi Khan, about 80 km west of Multan. A military official earlier said that 10 people had been rescued. The deaths were the latest caused by severe weather in Pakistan.

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