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Blast Near Shiite Shrine In Pakistan Kills 24

By Naseer Kakar
Associated Press
Sunday, March 20, 2005; Page A21

QUETTA, Pakistan, March 19 -- A bomb exploded Saturday in a remote town in southwestern Pakistan as minority Shiite Muslims congregated at a shrine, killing at least 24 people and wounding 16, police said.

Thousands of worshipers were at the shrine of a Shiite saint near the town of Naseerabad, in Baluchistan province, when the bomb went off outside, said Mubarak Ali, a local police official.

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There was no immediate assertion of responsibility and no indication that the attack was linked to clashes this week between renegade tribesmen and government forces at a town in southwestern Baluchistan. Those clashes left at least 30 people dead.

"It was a powerful bomb. There was blood and body parts everywhere," said Mehrab Khan, another police official. "Right now, people are angry. They are wailing and crying. Some of them have blocked roads in the town, and we are trying to control the situation."

Khan said the dead and injured, some in critical condition, were transported to a nearby hospital. He said he expected the death toll to rise.

Pakistan has a history of sectarian violence, mostly attributed to rival majority Sunni and minority Shiite extremist groups. About 80 percent of Pakistan's 150 million people are Sunnis and 17 percent are Shiites.

Most of the Muslims live together peacefully, but small groups of militants on both sides stage attacks.

Also late Saturday, two homemade bombs went off in a residential area of the town of Turbat, about 400 miles southwest of Quetta, wounding four people, local police official Naqeeb Ullah said. He said police did not know who was responsible.

Thursday's fighting in Dera Bugti, about 30 miles from Pakistan's main gas fields, was an alarming escalation of a low-level tribal rebellion in Baluchistan, the country's poorest province.

A parliamentary committee has been set up to examine the grievances of the tribesmen in the province, which was roiled by an insurgency in the 1970s. Tribesmen are demanding more returns from the natural gas extracted from their territory and resent the army's moves to set up garrisons in the region.

As government workers and their families fled the area in vehicles under paramilitary escort, ethnic nationalists accused the army of preparing a major offensive and warned that they could turn the province into a "graveyard" for soldiers.

The two sides agreed to a cease-fire early Friday after 16 hours of clashes. But on Saturday, all 3,300 government employees and their families -- who are not from the local Bugti tribe -- evacuated the town, which has a population of 84,000 and is 185 miles southeast of Quetta.


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