Sui­cide bomber kills 128 at rally in Pak­istan

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS - ZA­HEER BABAR AND AB­DUL SAT­TAR

AHORE, Pak­istan — The dead­li­est at­tacks in Pak­istan’s trou­bled elec­tion cam­paign killed at least 132 peo­ple, in­clud­ing a can­di­date, on Fri­day just be­fore the ar­rest of dis­graced for­mer prime min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif upon his re­turn to the coun­try.

In the south­west­ern prov­ince of Balochis­tan, a sui­cide bomber killed 128 peo­ple, in­clud­ing a politi­cian run­ning for a pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­ture. Four oth­ers died in a strike in Pak­istan’s north­west, spread­ing panic in the coun­try.

The at­tacks came hours be­fore Sharif re­turned from Lon­don, along with his daugh­ter Maryam, to face a 10-year prison sen­tence on cor­rup­tion charges, anti-cor­rup­tion of­fi­cials said. Maryam Sharif faces seven years in jail.

He was taken into cus­tody to serve his sen­tence, how­ever, he is ex­pected to ap­peal and seek bail. It wasn’t clear when his ap­peal would be filed, but he has un­til Mon­day.

In the south­ern town of Mas­tung, can­di­date Si­raj Raisani and 127 oth­ers died when a sui­cide bomber blew him­self up amid scores of sup­port­ers who had gath­ered at a rally.

The Is­lamic State group claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack in a state­ment car­ried on its Aa­maq news agency.

The group gave no rea­son for the bomb­ing that killed Raisani, who was run­ning for the elec­tion on the Balochis­tan Awami Party ticket.

Raisani is the brother of the for­mer Balochis­tan chief min­is­ter, As­lam Raisani. Care­taker Home Min­is­ter Agha Umar Bun­galzai told The As­so­ci­ated Press an­other 300 peo­ple were wounded in Fri­day’s bomb­ing.

The U.S. State Depart­ment strongly con­demned this week’s at­tacks on po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates and their sup­port­ers in Pak­istan in a state­ment.

“These at­tacks are cow­ardly at­tempts to de­prive the Pak­istani peo­ple of their demo­cratic rights,” it said. “We will con­tinue to stand with the peo­ple of Pak­istan, and the broader South Asia re­gion in their fight against ter­ror­ism.”

Mean­while, Sharif ar­rived in the east­ern city of La­hore from Lon­don, where he was vis­it­ing his ail­ing wife when a Pak­istani court con­victed him and his daugh­ter of cor­rup­tion.

Sharif’s son-in-law is cur­rently serv­ing his oneyear prison sen­tence on the same charge, which stems from the pur­chase of lux­ury apart­ments in Bri­tain which the court said were bought with il­le­gally ac­quired money.

Ahead of his re­turn, po­lice swept through La­hore, ar­rest­ing scores of Sharif’s Pak­istan Mus­lim League party work­ers to pre­vent them from greet­ing him at the air­port.

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Barbed wire was strung across some roads lead­ing to the La­hore air­port on Fri­day, and bar­ri­cades were po­si­tioned at the road­side ready to close off main boule­vards should crowds start to gather.

In a video mes­sage Fri­day, re­port­edly from aboard his air­craft en route to Pak­istan, Sharif said he was re­turn­ing know­ing he would be taken di­rectly to prison.

Sharif has been banned from par­tic­i­pat­ing in pol­i­tics, and his brother Shah­baz Sharif now heads his Pak­istan Mus­lim League and is cam­paign­ing for re-elec­tion on July 25.

In a tele­vised ap­peal to sup­port­ers from Lon­don ear­lier this week, Sharif said he was not afraid of prison and asked peo­ple to vote for his party. He also used the op­por­tu­nity to again crit­i­cize Pak­istan’s pow­er­ful mil­i­tary, which has ruled the coun­try di­rectly or in­di­rectly for most of its 71-year his­tory, say­ing Pak­istan now has a “state above the state.”

Dur­ing his term in of­fice, Sharif crit­i­cized the mil­i­tary’s in­volve­ment in civil­ian af­fairs, and its ef­forts in fight­ing ex­trem­ists.

Pak­istani and in­ter­na­tional rights groups have ac­cused the mil­i­tary of seek­ing to main­tain its in­flu­ence in Pak­istani pol­i­tics by keep­ing Sharif out of power.

The mil­i­tary de­nied the ac­cu­sa­tions, say­ing their as­sis­tance in car­ry­ing out the elec­tions was re­quested by Pak­istan’s Elec­tion Com­mis­sion. The army will de­ploy 350,000 se­cu­rity per­son­nel to polling sta­tions through­out the coun­try on elec­tion day.

Un­der­scor­ing the se­cu­rity threat were Fri­day’s bombings, the first of which killed four peo­ple in the north­west near the elec­tion rally of a se­nior politi­cian from an Is­lamist party.

The ex­plo­sion tar­geted can­di­date Akram Khan Dur­rani, who es­caped un­hurt, and wounded 20 peo­ple, lo­cal po­lice chief Rashid Khan said.

Dur­rani is run­ning in the July 25 vote against pop­u­lar for­mer lawmaker Im­ran Khan. He is a can­di­date of Mut­tahida Ma­jlis-e-Amal, an elec­tion al­liance of rad­i­cal re­li­gious groups.

The at­tacks came days af­ter a sui­cide bomber dis­patched by the Pak­istani Tal­iban killed sec­u­lar politi­cian Ha­roon Ahmed Bilour and 20 oth­ers at his rally in the north­west­ern city of Pe­shawar.

Khan, who hopes to be­come the next prime min­is­ter, con­demned Fri­day’s at­tack against his op­po­nent, Dur­rani. In a tweet, he said there seems to be a con­spir­acy to sab­o­tage the July 25 vote. But he said the peo­ple of Pak­istan will not al­low any­thing to pre­vent “his­toric” elec­tions from tak­ing place.

K.M. CHAUDARY / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Po­lice dis­perse for­mer prime min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif’s sup­port­ers, who gath­ered to see him in La­hore on Fri­day.

ROD MINCHIN / PRESS AS­SO­CI­A­TION FILES

As­sis­tant po­lice com­mis­sioner Neil Basu said some lo­ca­tions would re­main cor­doned off to pro­tect the pub­lic.

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