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Extra troops deployed in bomb-hit Pak town

Authorities said local religious leaders and elders were cooperating with official efforts to douse sectarian tensions in Hangu.

india Updated: Feb 11, 2006 17:49 IST

Pakistan increased troops on Saturday in a tense northwestern town where religious violence between rival Muslim groups killed at least 40 people this week, officials said.

Rival Sunni and Shiite Muslim groups perched on mountain tops surrounding the town of Hangu traded rocket fire overnight but no casualties were reported, officials said.

Authorities said local religious leaders and elders were cooperating with official efforts to douse sectarian tensions in Hangu, a small town with a background of sectarian frictions and bloodshed.

"Hundreds of paramilitary troops have reinforced the security deployment in Hangu and areas around it to prevent sectarian clashes and restore order," said a senior interior ministry official.

A series of powerful blasts on Thursday, one believed to be a suicide bombing, targeted Shiites celebrating Ashura, the holiest day in their calendar, sparking large-scale rioting.

At least 40 people died and more than 70 were wounded in the blasts and resulting mayhem, including four bus passengers and four truck drivers shot dead by unidentified gunmen.

A curfew was subsequently clamped on the town as the army took control of the area and authorities in all four provinces tightened security to ease tensions between the rest of the country's majority Sunnis and minority Shiites.

"We are negotiating with rival groups and trying to persuade them to come down from their positions on hilltops," the mayor of Hangu, Ghaniur Rehman, told by telephone.

"At the moment guns have fallen silent and we hope peace will return to the city," Rehman said.

First Published: Feb 11, 2006 16:15 IST