Bombings, shootings continue in Pakistan

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QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) – Bombings and shootings killed at least nine people in Pakistan’s restive southwestern Baluchistan region on Sunday, while Islamic militants gunned down a cleric near the Afghan border on suspicion he was spying for the U.S. and Britain.

Pakistan has been gripped by increased violence in recent months as Pakistani military forces crack down on tribesmen in Baluchistan who want increased royalties from natural resources extracted there, and in North and South Waziristan, where support for remnants of the former Taliban government in Afghanistan runs high.

A bomb planted in a shopping bag killed two policemen outside a security post in Dhadar, a small town about 60 miles southeast of the Baluchistan capital of Quetta, said Mahmood Marri, a government administrator.

Gunmen opened fire immediately after the blast, killing four more policemen who were at the scene and wounding four others, said Maj. Mohammed Anjum, an official with the Levies, a police force that looks after security in Baluchistan’s tribal areas.

The coordinated attacks came hours after another bomb ripped through a state-run dairy in the Baluchistan town of Kohlu, killing two farm workers and a 7-year-old son of one of the workers. Nine others were wounded, said local government official Mohammed Akbar.

Baluch tribesmen are suspected in attacks on government installations and security forces in recent months in a campaign to press demands for independence and increased royalties for resources extracted in their territories.

About 8,000 supporters of the Baluchistan National Party staged a noisy rally in downtown Quetta chanting “We won’t let the Pakistan army conquer Baluchistan!” and “Our struggle will continue until complete freedom!”

The demonstrators also called on Washington to stop Pakistan from using U.S.-supplied weapons against Baluchistan tribesmen.

“We have started a movement for freedom from Pakistan and until Baluchs and Pashtuns in Baluchistan have freedom, this struggle will continue,” said Akhtar Mengal, a rally leader and former provincial chief minister.

Abdur Raziq Bugti, a provincial government spokesman, dismissed the independence calls and vowed security forces would continue operations against “terrorists.”

Also Sunday, a tractor hit a land mine on a dirt road and killed its driver in the Baluchistan town of Jaffarabad, about 215 miles southeast of Quetta, said area police official Abdul Manan.

Separately in the lawless South Waziristan tribal region, Islamic militants killed cleric Maulana Zahir Shah on suspicion he was a spy for the United States and Britain, a local government official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Shah’s bullet-riddle body was found Sunday in Sararogha, a mountainous area close to the border with Afghanistan. Three days earlier, he had been abducted by five armed men from the Islamic school he ran, the official said.

Shah helped authorities run an FM radio station that aired programs critical of militants from his seminary in Tajori, an intelligence official said, declining to be identified because of the secretive nature of his job.

The cleric’s killers left a note with his body written in the local Pashto language alleging that Shah had visited the American Embassy in Pakistan and spied on militants for Britain and the United States.

Scores of people, including local tribesmen and several clerics, have been killed in the tribal region in recent years over suspicions of collaborating with Pakistani or Western officials.

Meanwhile, police arrested 60 suspected members of an outlawed Sunni Muslim militant group, Sipah-e-Sahaba, for trying to disrupt an annual spring festival at a village, said local police official Dar Ali Khattak.

Pakistani authorities claim Arab, Central Asian and Afghan fighters are in the South and North Waziristan tribal areas with support from local sympathizers.

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