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Bomb in Pakistan's Lahore, 16 dead, many hurt

GUNMEN attacked police headquarters in the Pakistani city of Lahore today, opening fire and setting off a car-bomb that killed 16 people, wounded about 300 and caused extensive damage, officials said.

There was no claim of responsibility, but the blast comes as the army battles militants in the Swat region of the country's northwest in its most concerted action to push back a growing Taliban insurgency.

The attack also hit as General David Petraeus, head of the US Central Command, was in Islamabad for meetings with government and military leaders.

The United States needs Pakistani action against militants in its northwest to defeat al Qaeda and disrupt support for the Taliban in Afghanistan.

"I believe that anti-Pakistan elements, who want to destabilise our country and see defeat in Swat, have now turned to our cities," Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik told reporters.

The Swat offensive and insecurity in general have worried stock market investors but the main index was 0.49 percent higher at 7,212.22 at 0715 GMT.

The bomb caused widespread destruction, bringing down a government ambulance service building and damaging a nearby office of the military's main intelligence agency.

Provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said 16 people were killed while hospitals reported about 300 people were wounded.

Just before the blast, two men got out of the car and opened fire at police guards at the gate, Sanaullah said, adding a few suspects had later been detained.

But two witnesses said about four gunmen got out of a car and started firing.

"Four to five men got of the vehicle and fired at a police guard who tried to stop them," lawyer Subtain Akhtar Bokhari told Reuters.

Television showed pictures of rescuers digging a person out of the rubble.


Militant violence has surged in Pakistan since mid-2007, with numerous attacks on the security forces, as well as government and Western targets.

Officials had warned militants might launch bomb attacks in retaliation for the offensive in Swat, where the military says about 15,000 members of the security forces face 4,000-5,000 militants.

Lahore is capital of Punjab province, Pakistan's most populous and prosperous. The country's second biggest city is also traditionally home to top bureaucrats and military senior brass.

Lahore has seen several bomb attacks over the past couple of years but its citizens felt much safer than other parts of the country until March, when militants launched two brazen assaults.

Attackers firing rifles and throwing grenades stormed a police training academy on the city's outskirts on March 30, killing eight recruits, wounding scores and holding off security forces for hours.

That attack, claimed by Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, came less than a month after a dozen gunmen attacked Sri Lanka's cricket team in the city, killing six police guards and a bus driver.

Share market dealers said despite the various security problems stocks got a boost after the Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled popular former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his politician brother can contest elections, removing a cause of political uncertainty.

The government has been struggling to revive a flagging economy being kept afloat by a US$7.6 billion International Monetary Fund loan agreed in November.


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