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September 15, 2009

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18 killed in Karachi stampede

AT least 18 women and girls waiting to get free flour in Pakistan's southern city of Karachi died when the crowd swelled and a stampede occurred, officials said.

Separately, a missile fired from a suspected unmanned US drone slammed into a car in a Pakistani tribal region close to the Afghan border yesterday, killing four people, officials and residents said.

The deaths in the Karachi stampede came during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a traditional time for charitable acts, including giving away food. At times, however, the giveaways have turned rowdy and dangerous.

Yesterday's stampede occurred in a small building with narrow passages. As more women entered to get the flour, some began to panic and guards began using strong-arm tactics to clear the place, officials and witnesses said.

Karachi police chief Wasim Ahmad said at least 18 women and girls died in the ensuing rush. Mohammad Amin Khan of Karachi Civil Hospital said some of the women had suffocated and that there were at least 20 bodies.

"Hundreds of women were pushing to enter into the small hall, and guards started beating us to get the place cleared," said 30-year-old Kulsoom, who gave only one name and ended up among the many wounded.

The apparent American missile strike was the latest of more than 50 in the northwest region since last year aimed at killing top al-Qaida and Taliban leaders. Last month, the head of the Pakistani Taliban was killed in one such strike.

Yesterday's attack took place about 3 kilometers from the town of Mir Ali in North Waziristan, killing four people, two officials and witnesses said.

Witnesses Ikramullah Khan and Mohammad Salim said the missile hit a vehicle with blacked-out windows - a style associated with Taliban fighters in the region.

Pakistan protests the US missile strikes as violations of its sovereignty and says they fan support for the insurgents, but Washington has shown no sign of abandoning a tactic that it says has killed several ranking militants and disrupted their operations.


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