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Pak army pounds Taliban after suicide attacks

Troops backed by helicopter gunships pounded Islamic militants in Pakistan's volatile northwest on Saturday, killing 37 in retaliation for a string of suicide bombing.

world Updated: Aug 23, 2008 16:32 IST

Troops backed by helicopter gunships pounded Islamic militants in Pakistan's volatile northwest on Saturday, killing 37 in retaliation for a string of suicide bombings that have put pressure on the five-month-old government, the army said.

In one of the country's deadliest terrorist attacks ever, a twin suicide bombing at a massive weapons factory two days ago killed 67 people and injured more than 100.

A car bombing at a police station on Saturday left six officers dead in Swat, a valley that used to be popular with tourists, and a roadside bomb in the same region wounded one civilian and four others.

The Taliban have claimed responsibility for much of the violence and vowed to continue unless the army ends its fight against militants in remote, rugged regions along the border with Afghanistan.

"We've warned the government that we'd target police if the army did not stop operations against us," Muslim Khan, a spokesman for the militants, told The Associated Press. "But the government has ignored us."

The military, despite those threats, said it had engaged in a fierce battle with militants in the Swat valley on Saturday. Army spokesman Maj. Nasir Ali said 37 militants and two soldiers were killed. No insurgents in the area were immediately available to confirm the fighting or casualties on their side. The violence underscores the many challenges ahead for Pakistan's coalition government since it forced Pervez Musharraf to resign as president earlier this week.

The two main parties, traditional rivals united primarily in their hatred of the former military ruler, dabbled in striking peace deals with insurgents soon after coming to power, something he also had tried.

The peace effort has met only limited success, and the government is back to relying on military operations in an attempt to beat back the militants, who have expanded their reach beyond traditional tribal regions.

A car packed with explosives rammed into a police station in Swat on Saturday, killing at least six officers and wounding several others, said local police official Mohib Ullahn.

One civilian died and four were wounded in Bari Kot village in a roadside bomb explosion, said Khan, the Taliban spokesman. Separately, a bomb rigged to a bicycle exploded Saturday near a vehicle carrying Raja Umar Khatab, a senior police investigator in Karachi, wounding four people, said Wasim Ahmad, the city's police chief.

Khatab, who has played a key role in arresting many militants in recent years, was among those hurt,