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Pakistan celebrates 60 years of Independence

At midnight, crowds lighted fireworks to mark the creation of a separate homeland for India's Muslims at the end of British rule in 1947.

world Updated: Aug 14, 2007 17:46 IST
DPA

Millions of Pakistanis celebrated 60 years of independence on Tuesday with fireworks, flag-raising ceremonies, music festivals and prayers across the country.

In Islamabad, crowds filled the streets as the clock struck midnight and pyrotechnics lit the sky to mark the creation of a separate homeland for India's Muslims at the end of British rule in 1947.

A 31-gun salute echoed across the city and 21 shots were fired in all four provincial capitals.

"Pakistan has come a long way since Independence," President Pervez Musharraf said in a message to the nation's 165 million people, and called upon them to support upcoming general elections "and become instruments of enlightened moderation in our beloved country".

The 1947 partition triggered one of the largest migrations in history as 10 million people crossed the new borders. Up to a million died in sectarian violence as a diminished India was formed between West and East Pakistan, which later became Bangladesh.

Tributes were paid to Pakistan's first leader, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who had campaigned for many years for a separate homeland for Muslims. Jinnah died in 1948 and would not know of the further turmoil independence would bring.

Pakistan went on to fight three wars with India, culminating in a tense standoff between their newly nuclear-armed armies in 2001-02, which was then defused and gave way to peace initiatives in 2004.

Speaking at the Jinnah convention centre in Islamabad, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz hailed some of the achievements of recent years.

"Eight years back we were described as a failed state, but now we are among the fast-growing economies," he said, while sounding a defiant note towards would-be aggressors.

"We will shed our last blood drop to defend our land," Aziz said, adding that, "By the grace of God we are a nuclear power today, and we are proud of it."

To mark the 60th anniversary, Pakistan on Monday allowed 134 Indian prisoners to return home, mostly people or fishermen who strayed across the border.

India, which will mark its own independence on Wednesday, was expected to make a reciprocal release of more than 100 Pakistanis on Tuesday at the Wagah border crossing point by Lahore.