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Blast within Musharraf earshot, seven killed

Islamabad, Oct. 30 (AP): A bomber blew himself up less than half a kilometre from President Pervez Musharraf’s office today, killing seven persons and deepening Pakistan’s insecurity ahead of crucial elections.

Officials said the attacker detonated explosives among police at a checkpoint in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, just south of the capital, Islamabad.

Musharraf was safely inside Army House, half a kilometre away, where the blast was clearly heard, said presidential spokesperson Rashid Qureshi.

There was no claim of responsibility. Qureshi declined to speculate on who was behind the incident.

However, he said it followed a string of bloody suicide attacks including the bombing of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s homecoming parade. The October 18 blast killed more than 140 people in Pakistan’s largest city, the southern port of Karachi.

Musharraf went ahead with the scheduled opening of a highway linking Islamabad with the northwest, and warned extremists to stop killing fellow Muslims or face stern action.

“These terrorists and extremist elements must not retard the country’s economic development by their senseless acts,” Musharraf said, according to the state-run Pakistan Radio.

Police said three of their officers and four civilians were killed, along with the lone assailant. Fourteen policemen and four civilians were wounded, he said.

“When police officers asked him to halt, the attacker panicked. And as the police tried to capture him, he blew himself up,” city police chief Saud Aziz said. “Our officers died to protect the citizens of Pakistan.”

The attack left the area around the checkpoint strewn with human flesh and torn clothing.

The checkpoint guards a road leading to Army House and the residences of several top generals.

An AP photographer saw emergency workers remove the body of an elderly man, who had been riding by on a bicycle. Police said women and children aboard a passing minibus were among the dead and wounded.

Investigators cordoned off the area to retrieve evidence, including parts of the bomber’s head caught by an overhanging tree branch.

Fortified army posts at the checkpoint and the nearby gate to the residence of the army’s No. 3 commander were scarred with shrapnel and spattered with blood.

Pakistan has been rocked by a series of suicide bombings since Musharraf cracked down on militants near the Afghan border in July. Two blasts killed 25 people in Rawalpindi on September 4.

US officials said the border area has become a haven for Taliban militants fighting in Afghanistan and warned al Qaida might be using it to plot new attacks on the West.

Last week, authorities sent troops to tackle supporters of a pro-Taliban cleric in the northwestern district of Swat. Officials say four days of violence in the once-peaceful mountain region have left around 100 people dead.

Musharraf, who has evaded at least three attempts on his life, is widely expected to join forces with Bhutto in a US-friendly alliance after January’s elections. But their emerging tie-up must survive a number of legal challenges.

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