Eleven dead in Pakistan election violence
Agence France-Presse
By Sami Zubeiri

ISLAMABAD – A suicide bomb killed an election candidate and nine other people in Pakistan Monday, while a political worker died in a clash between rival parties as a wave of pre-poll violence intensified.

The attacks raised new fears about the security of the elections in one week’s time, with candidates keeping a low profile since the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto at a political rally in December.

Police said Monday’s bombing in the tribal region of North Waziristan, bordering Afghanistan, targeted the convoy of a candidate named as Nisar Ali as he travelled to a political meeting.

“It was a suicide attack, a miscreant rammed his car laden with explosives into the candidate’s convoy,” a tribal police official told AFP after the attack in the village of Aidak, near the major town of Mir Ali.

“10 people were killed, including the candidate and an administration official, while 13 others were wounded.”

Officials said the candidate was linked to the Awami National Party (ANP), an ethnic Pashtun nationalist party. A suicide bomber killed 25 people at an ANP rally in northwestern Pakistan on Saturday.

Pakistan has been hit by a wave of suicide attacks across the nuclear-armed nation that has so far this year left nearly 100 people dead, all blamed by the government on Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.

The killing of ex-premier Bhutto has also been blamed on an Al-Qaeda-linked militant commander based in the tribal region of South Waziristan. Her killing forced the postponement of elections that were supposed to be in January.

The spiralling violence in Pakistan caused US Defence Secretary Robert Gates to warn a day earlier that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda pose a direct threat to the Islamabad government.

In a further illustration of the challenge facing Pakistani authorities, a top Afghan Taliban commander, Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, was captured and wounded Monday by security forces in a southwestern village, police and the army said.

Opposition parties have accused the government of playing up security threats to politicians in a bid to dampen campaigning in favour of parties that favour President Pervez Musharraf, but rallies have gathered pace in recent days.

Lawyers across the country launched a boycott of courts until the elections and held protests inside courtrooms in major cities to call for the restoration of the country’s deposed chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

Musharraf sacked Chaudhry under a state of emergency in November. He remains under house arrest.

Later Monday hundreds of supporters of Musharraf’s key allies, the former ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q) party, arrived in a fleet of buses in the capital and held a rally in front of parliament, witnesses said.

Another former premier, Nawaz Sharif, accused the government of “massive” attempts to rig the polls at a news conference in Lahore.

Meanwhile, two surveys by US-based groups said that the sympathy effect of Bhutto’s death in a suicide and gun attack in the northern city of Rawalpindi had boosted the chances of her Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in the election.

Fifty percent of Pakistanis said they would vote for the PPP, against 22 percent for Sharif’s party, said one poll by the International Republican Institute released on Monday. The PML-Q were chosen by only 14 percent.

The survey also found that 75 percent of Pakistanis wanted Musharraf to quit.

A separate poll released at the weekend by the Terror Free Tomorrow organisation found that 36.7 percent of people said they would vote for the PPP, 25.3 percent for Sharif’s grouping and 12 percent for the PML-Q.

A separate poll released at the weekend by the Terror Free Tomorrow organisation found that 36.7 percent of people said they would vote for the PPP, 25.3 percent for Sharif’s grouping and 12 percent for the PML-Q.

Police, meanwhile, said one person was killed and two injured in a clash on Monday between supporters of Bhutto’s party and activists from the PML-Q.

The injured were from the PPP but it was not clear which party the dead worker belonged to, a police official said after the gunbattle in Umerkot, a town in Bhutto’s political heartland in southern Sindh province.

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