More violence in Pakistan; U.N. children to leave

_45070864_1b5b1efd-1370-4413-a4df-244ec9d8ff0b1.jpgISLAMABAD (Reuters) – A suicide bomber killed himself and three other people in Pakistan on Thursday in an attack aimed at a prominent ethnic Pashtun politician, police said.

The politician, Asfandyar Wali Khan, leader of the Awami National Party (ANP) which is part of the ruling coalition government, was not hurt in the attack in the northwestern town of Charsadda, police said.

The blast, the latest in a wave of bomb attacks by Islamist militants, came as the United Nations said it was raising its security level in Pakistan and children of international staff would have to leave the country.

“Obviously, Mr Asfandyar Wali was the target as the suicide bomber tried to enter his guest house but was shot by the security people. He then fell to the ground and blew up,” provincial police chief Malik Naveed told Reuters.

Hospital officials said more than a dozen people had been wounded.

The ANP is a liberal-leaning Pashtun party based in the northwest and is fiercely opposed to militants based in the region waging a bloody campaign against the government.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan has seen an alarming deterioration in security over the past year.

There have been 89 suicide attacks across the country since July 2007 in which nearly 1,200 people have been killed, according to figures issued by the military.

A suicide truck bomber attacked the Marriott Hotel in the capital Islamabad on September 20 killing 55 people, among them six foreigners including the Czech ambassador and three Americans.

Security forces are battling al Qaeda and Taliban militants in remote, semi-autonomous regions on the Afghan border and up to 1,000 militants have been killed since August, the military said.

“EVACUATING THE CHILDREN”

Worsening security has coincided with serious economic problems including a widening current account deficit, an unsustainable fiscal deficit and inflation running at more than 25 percent.

Pakistan’s main stock index has shed 34.8 percent since the beginning of the year and is 41.7 percent lower than a life high set in April, while the rupee has lost 21.3 percent against the dollar this year.

The U.N. decision to send children of international staff out of the country is another indication of growing unease about security and comes after the government issued assurances about efforts to protect foreigners after the Marriott attack.

“Phase three has been approved by the secretary general,” said U.N. information officer Ishrat Rizvi, referring to a security level under which dependents of U.N. staff have to leave.

The United Nations remained committed to Pakistan and the new security level would have no impact on its operations, she said.

“It’s a matter of only evacuating the children of international staff members which doesn’t make any difference to the work of the United Nations,” she said.

Aid groups, and some embassies and foreign companies are expected to follow suit and ask dependents of their international staff to leave.

Britain is withdrawing the children of its diplomats from Pakistan following the attack on the Marriott, the Foreign Office said in London on Wednesday.

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