At least six killed by car-bomb in Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – A car-bomb went off by a police post in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar on Saturday killing at least six people and wounding about 40, police and hospital staff said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but al Qaeda-linked militants have set off numerous bombs in Pakistan over the past year, many of them in the northwest and aimed at security forces.

The blast came as members of parliament and the country’s four provincial assemblies were voting for a new president to replace Pervez Musharraf, who resigned last month.

“A vehicle laden with explosives went off near the police post which has been totally destroyed,” said senior police official Garanullah.

He said the toll could rise as a building had collapsed because of the blast. A witness said he saw 10 bodies being taken away.

Elsewhere in the northwest, villagers battled Taliban militants after the Taliban tried to kidnap a Muslim holy man, and 20 villagers and six militants have been killed, police said.

The clash in the Swat Valley, about 140 km (85 miles) northwest of the capital, Islamabad, was a rare show of defiance by civilians in the northwest where militants have been extending their influence from strongholds on the Afghan border.

The fighting broke out on Friday between militants and residents of Matta district in valley.

“Villagers stood up against them and killed six militants when they tried to take Pir Samiullah hostage. Their defiance angered the militants who attacked and killed 20 people,” said police officer Fazl-e-Subhan.

A pir is a Muslim holy man. It was not clear why the militants wanted to detain him.

The fighting continued on Saturday with residents taking positions on mountains to battle the militants, police said.

Many Pakistanis have a gun in their homes, often a Kalashnikov automatic rifle, especially in the northwest.

CHOLERA

The Swat Valley was one of Pakistan’s main tourist destinations until last year, when militants infiltrated from sanctuaries on the Afghan border to support a radical cleric trying to impose hardline Taliban rule.

Heavy fighting erupted last November when the military went on the offensive to clear the militants out. Fighting eased off but flared again in August after a peace pact collapsed.

Hundreds of people have been killed in the valley.

Villagers criticized government forces for not helping them.

“We sought their help but all they did was fire some artillery which wasn’t enough and that’s why we suffered so many casualties,” resident Sallahuddin Khan told Reuters.

A military spokesman in Swat was not available for comment.

Pakistani forces have been battling militants elsewhere in the northwest in recent weeks, in particular in the Bajaur region on the Afghan border, to the west of Swat.

The fighting has displaced up to 300,000 people in the northwest and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Friday cholera had broken out among some of them.

“Cholera has started in certain areas … It is a major concern,” Pascal Cuttat, head of ICRC’s delegation in Pakistan, told a news briefing in Geneva.

Some displaced people began going home after the government said it would suspend military operations in the northwest for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which began on Tuesday.

The government said its forces would retaliate if attacked and a Taliban spokesman rejected the ceasefire.

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