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30 die in mosque as bomber targets Pakistani worshippers

A SUICIDE bomber killed at least 30 people and wounded 40 attending Friday prayers at a mosque in Pakistan's northwest, violence that came as the country's leaders urged a visiting United States envoy for more aid to stave off Taliban-led militancy.

The attack also occurred as the Pakistani army said it had made more gains in the nearby Swat Valley, an operation that the army chief said had "decisively turned" in the military's favor.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast at the Sunni Muslim mosque in the Haya Gai area of Upper Dir, a rough and tumble district next to Swat.

Police said a man wearing an explosive vest entered the mosque but was recognized by some worshippers as a stranger. When they confronted him, he blew himself up, said Atlass Khan, a police official in Upper Dir.

Local police chief Ejaz Ahmad said the confirmed death toll was 30, but "there are more body parts, which may make another four to six bodies" and the final tally could reach 40. Another 40 were wounded, some critically, Ahmad said.

Pakistani leaders insist they are serious about wiping out militancy in the northwest, especially in the Swat Valley, a one-time tourist haven that the Taliban took over in the past two years.

But the generally broad public support in Pakistan for the operation could falter if militant violence spikes in reaction or if the government fails to successfully resettle some 3 million refugees from the fighting.

There already have been attacks in Peshawar and Lahore officials say were militants' revenge for Swat.

Also yesterday, four soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in South Waziristan.

Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said this week that major population centers and roads leading to the valley were rid of Taliban resistance, but security forces were still hunting top Taliban commanders and incidents of violence would likely continue.

About 160,000 of displaced Pakistanis are now living in relief camps. The US has pledged US$110 million to help the refugees and US special envoy Richard Holbrooke this week announced plans for US$200 million more.

In a meeting with Holbrooke yesterday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani asked that the US write off Pakistan's debt, according to a statement from Gilani's office.

Holbrooke did not directly address the request in a news conference, but said he would meet Treasury and State Department officials when he returns to Washington "to see what additional things we can do to assist Pakistan in terms of its IMF obligations, its World Bank obligations and its extraordinarily difficult economic situation."


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