23 killed in attack on Pakistan Shiites

A suicide attack on a Shiite Muslim procession in Pakistan’s city of Rawalpindi overnight killed 23 people and wounded another 62, a police rescue spokeswoman told AFP.

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The attack came as Pakistan welcomed Muslim leaders for a rare international summit in Islamabad. Deeba Shehnaz said the death toll rose from 16 after patients, who were critically wounded in the attack, died from their injuries in various hospitals.

Police used lamps and torches to work through the night, bagging evidence at the scene after the Shiite procession was hit en route to the mosque where it was heading for the holy month of Muharram — a magnet for sectarian attacks.

In addition to the 23 people killed, rescue service spokesman Waqas Rehman told AFP that another 32 people were wounded including nine children.

Rawalpindi is adjacent to Islamabad, where thousands of extra police and paramilitary forces have been mobilised for the Developing 8 (D8) summit starting later on Thursday.

Leaders from Egypt, Iran and Turkey are among those at the summit of mainly Muslim nations which is meant to promote trade and investment. But Israel’s latest offensive in Gaza is set to loom large, even if a truce is now in effect.

The ceasefire was agreed in a deal between Israel and Palestinian group Hamas that was announced in Egypt on the eighth day of violence in and around Gaza. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was slated to join the Islamabad talks.

As well as the hosts Pakistan, the D8 also comprises Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia and Nigeria — the only member which is not majority-Muslim. Its population is roughly divided between Muslims and Christians.

Pakistan wants the summit to strengthen its international standing and help “remove misconceptions (about the country) created in a section of international media”, a government statement said in the buildup to the gathering.

In addition to the security deployment, construction work has been suspended around the diplomatic enclave to provide “God willing, foolproof security”, Islamabad police chief Bani Amin told AFP.

But Wednesday’s long day of militant violence was an unwelcome reminder that Pakistan remains in the grip of unrest largely orchestrated by homegrown Taliban extremists bitterly opposed to the country’s US-allied government.

In the southwestern city of Quetta, bombers hit an army vehicle escorting children home from school, killing four soldiers and a woman, police said.

More than 20 people were wounded when the bomb, planted on a motorcycle, was detonated by remote control, said city police chief Hamid Shakeel.

Shopkeeper Mohammad Talib said he was returning to his shop after prayers at a nearby mosque.

“Soon after, I heard a huge blast. There was dust and smoke. I saw an army vehicle in flames. Shards of glass were littered on the road. There was panic, people were screaming, others were fleeing the area,” he said.

Two people were killed in Pakistan’s largest city Karachi when a bomb-laden motorcycle collided with a rickshaw near a Shiite mosque, city police chief Iqbal Hussain told AFP.

In northwest Pakistan, four police died when gunmen ambushed a patrol in Bannu district, police official Nisar Ahmed Tanoli said. And a roadside bomb elsewhere killed another police official.

Because of such violence in the years since the September 11 attacks of 2001, Pakistan has rarely had a chance to host major international gatherings, and the government had hoped to use the D8 summit to present a different image.

Having received thanks from US President Barack Obama for helping to broker the Israel-Hamas truce, Egypt’s Morsi is scheduled to address a joint session of the Pakistani parliament on Friday.

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