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14 insurgents killed by Pakistani army

PAKISTANI troops sent to repel a Taliban advance toward the capital Islamabad killed 14 suspected militants, the army said yesterday.

The army also accused insurgents of holding an entire town hostage.

In another development that sent a shudder through Pakistan, officials said gun attacks in the mega-city of Karachi killed at least 34 people and threatened to ignite ethnic tension.

United States President Barack Obama said he was "gravely concerned" about the nuclear-armed country's stability, while Pakistan's president urged the public to support the army offensive so that the Islamic nation would remain "a moderate, modern and democratic state."

Security forces backed by warplanes began pushing into Buner, a district some 100 kilometers from Islamabad, on Tuesday after Taliban militants from the neighboring Swat Valley infiltrated the area.

Yesterday, troops ousted militants from the Ambela Pass leading over the mountains into Buner and were inching toward the north, army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said.

Soldiers opened fire on four suspected suicide car bombers who drove toward them near the pass, Abbas said. Two vehicles exploded while the other two managed to drive away. No troops were hurt, he said.

Troops also destroyed four militant vehicles in Dir, a district to the west, Abbas said. At least 14 militants were killed, and one soldier was injured in the previous 24 hours, he said.

Abbas also said militants had sealed off the town of Sultanwas.

"The people of Sultanwas are in great distress," Abbas said. "Nobody is being allowed to move out of Sultanwas."

Pakistan's stability is complicated by deep ethnic and sectarian tensions that are likely to grow as a result of a slowdown in economic growth.

Competition for jobs and political power is sharpest in Karachi, a teeming southern port with a history of ethnic violence. Much of the tension has been between the Pashtun population, who dominate the violence-plagued northwest, and Urdu-speaking Mohajirs descended from migrants from India.

The city was largely crippled on Wednesday after two Mohajir activists were gunned down by unknown shooters, sparking street violence. Paramilitary rangers roamed the city's trouble spots yesterday, as hospitals and police said the death toll had reached 34.


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