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'Troop to shoot anyone disrupting elections'

world Updated: Jan 15, 2008 11:24 IST
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President Pervez Musharraf said he has ordered troops to shoot anyone attempting to disrupt next month's elections, which Western nations hope will help bring stability to Pakistan as it battles rising attacks by Islamic militants. A spasm of violence Monday underscored the challenges facing the nation. Troops and militants clashed near the Afghan border, leaving 30 dead. Separately, a bomb killed at least nine people and wounded 52 Monday in Pakistan's largest city, Karachi.

Arif Ahmed Khan, a top government official in Karachi, said Tuesday that forensic evidence has been collected from the scene of the bombing outside a textile factory, but "it was too early to say who was behind it or give any motive."

The parliamentary elections were delayed six weeks until February 18 amid violent chaos that followed the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto on December 27 in a gun and suicide bomb attack that the government blamed on Muslim extremists.

Musharraf said the polls would not be delayed again and expressed confidence they would be peaceful.

"I have said to the rangers and army shoot anyone who tries to do anything of this sort (disrupting the polls)," he said in a speech at the opening of a new bridge on Monday.

Bhutto's party and the other major opposition grouping of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are expected to do well in the polls. On Monday, Sharif lashed out at Musharraf, saying he was blindly following America and ordering anti-terror operations that have left the country "drowned in blood."

Sharif's speech to a campaign rally was one of his harshest attacks on Musharraf over his alliance with Washington forged after the Sept. 11 attacks and may strike a chord with Pakistanis disenchanted with the war on terrorism.

Militant attacks, perceived by many as a response to Pakistan army operations launched against al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in recent years, have deepened the sense of insecurity in this Islamic nation of 160 million people and risk undermining the political process.

In the latest violence along the lawless Afghan border, suspected pro-Taliban militants ambushed a military convoy. The attack sparked a clash that left 23 fighters and seven troops dead, said army spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad.

Maulvi Muhammad Umer, spokesman for Tehrik-i-Taliban, an umbrella group for pro-Taliban forces in Pakistan's tribal areas, claimed responsibility for the attack. He denied that the rebels had suffered any fatalities, but said some had been wounded. Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his top deputy are believed to be hiding in the remote Pakistan-Afghan border area.