M A I N   N E W S

Musharraf escapes assassination bid
* Second attempt on life in 10 days
* 14 civilians killed in blasts
* Tight security for SAARC summit

Islamabad, December 25
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf today survived two successive assassination attempts within seconds of each other when two suicide bombers tried to crash their explosive-laden vehicles into his convoy at Rawalpindi, killing themselves and 12 others.

Ten days after escaping an attempt on his life in Rawalpindi, two cars filled with explosives, waiting at separate petrol stations, attempted to ram into the convoy of the 61-year-old military ruler this afternoon as he was returning to his official residence in the cantonment city from neighbouring Islamabad, but he and his staff escaped unhurt.

Pakistan Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said 14 persons were killed and 46 injured in the attacks.

There was confusion as preliminary reports said the suicide bombers hit a decoy convoy of the President but it was cleared when Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, who appeared on state-run PTV, announced that General Musharraf was safe and sound even though the windscreen of his limousine had suffered damage.

The attacks took place when two vehicles, waiting in different directions in the Jhanda Chichi area in the garrison city, stormed out and exploded within the close range of the General’s convoy.

“By the grace of God the President and other members of his motorcade were safe. I spoke to President Musharraf after the attacks,” Sheikh Rashid said.

Three other cars in the convoy were also damaged in the attacks that took place just 2 km from his official residence, he said.

He also said that debris of the nearby petrol stations that were damaged in the attacks fell on General Musharraf’s car.

The attacks have links with the previous attack. These are the same people who attacked the President on December 14,” Hayat said.

General Musharraf had blamed the previous attack on Al-Qaida.

The attacks came a day after General Musharraf announced he would seek a vote of confidence for his Presidency from Parliament and promised to step down as the Army Chief by December next year.

While no one has claimed responsibility, military spokesman Major-Gen Shaukat Sultan said the attacks could be by Al-Qaida or any other militant groups. All efforts would be made for the success of the forthcoming SAARC summit in Islamabad, he said.

Sultan said one car in General Musharraf’s motorcade was hit by the suicide bombers, injuring several security men.

Sheikh Rashid said the windscreen of General Musharraf’s limousine was slightly damaged when debris of a damaged car fell on the vehicle. He said investigations had been ordered. He said that tight security arrangements had been made for the three-day SAARC summit beginning on January 4 and that they would be further reviewed in view of today’s attacks.

Officials said last two vehicles of General Musharraf’s convoy suffered heavy damage. The area of the attacks resembled a battle zone with dozens of damaged cars and other vehicles strewn around. Two petrol stations also suffered damage.

The first suicide car rammed into a police vehicle going ahead of the convoy while the second one exploded closer to General Musharraf’s vehicle.

Sultan said General Musharraf’s policies of Islamic moderation had upset several elements in Pakistan.

He said he met General Musharraf after the attacks and found him to be in good spirits. “He (Musharraf) is an ideal soldier and a great individual,” he told Geo TV.

A senior Senator of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q), Mushaid Hussain, said today’s attacks revealed that the security system had totally collapsed.

“There appears to be no security system. Whatever is there appeared to have collapsed after today,” he said. — PTI, IANS



India, Russia condemn attack
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 25
India today condemned the terrorist attacks against Gen Pervez Musharraf in Rawalpindi.

“The government strongly condemns the heinous terrorist attacks against President Musharraf earlier today, which took many innocent lives and injured a large number of civilians,” External Affairs Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said.

“We express our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims,” he said.

MOSCOW (PTI): Expressing great concern and anxiety at the second attempt on the life of Gen Pervez Musharraf within a fortnight, Russia today reiterated its call for more resolute action against terror and extremist outfits in that country.

“The unending forays of terrorists and religious extremists in Pakistan, directed at undermining the efforts of the international anti-terror coalition and scuttling positive tendencies emerging lately in Indo-Pakistan relations, once again testify the need for more decisive and resolute steps against individuals and organisations posing a real threat to the progressive and democratic foundations of Pakistan’s statehood,” a Russian Foreign Ministry statement said.


I was the target, says Musharraf
SAARC heads should not worry
K. J. M. Varma

Islamabad, December 25
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, who survived twin suicide bombings today, said that he was the target of the attack by terrorists opposed to his reform process and stressed that there was no need for the heads of SAARC countries to worry about the security situation in Pakistan for next month’s summit.

Speaking to PTV a few hours after the attack, Musharraf, who was found to be in good spirits, said that he was not deterred by the recurring attacks and infact his determination to fight against the terrorist and fundamentalist forces in Pakistan had gone up as a result of the attacks.

“It was an attack on me... The suicide bomber attacked me. Thank God, nothing happened,” he said.

“Such attacks do not scare me,” he said, and offered condolences to the 14 persons killed in the twin suicide bombings and promised to compensate their families.

Today’s attack on him was the second in the past 10 days. Fourteen people were killed in and 46 injured when two suicide bombers driving separate cars attempted to plough into Musharraf’s convoy and exploded.

Musharraf’s car reportedly sustained minor damage, but he survived without much injuries.

Musharraf said the attacks should not deter the heads of the SAARC countries to worry about the security situation in Pakistan. “These attacks were directed against me. Others should not worry,” he said adding that preparations were in full swing to make the summit to be held here from January 4 to 6 a success.

A host of leaders, including Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, are scheduled to attend the summit.

Referring to the attack, Musharraf said he could see the first suicide bomber driving his vehicle directly into his convoy. He escaped as the bombers' vehicles were stopped by the police escort. A police inspector died as a result, he said, while expressing his deep pain and sympathies for the families of the people killed in the attack.

“They died because of me. I have to do something for them. I will take care of their families,” he said.

Meanwhile, after an emergency Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali strongly condemned the assassination attempt on Musharraf as the Cabinet vowed to carry on the fight against terrorism despite the continuing attacks by suspected militant groups. — PTI


Pervez calls meeting on govt-MMA pact

Islamabad, December 25
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, who agreed to quit as Army Chief by December, 2004, under a deal with Islamist parties in return for endorsement of his Presidency and constitutional amendments, has summoned the National Assembly tomorrow to discuss and approve the agreement, denounced by pro-democracy parties as a “mullah-military” pact.

The President summoned the 342-member National Assembly to kickstart the process of ratification of the amendments and his Presidency well before the SAARC summit to be held here from January 4 to 6.

The assembly would primarily debate and approve 10 clauses which would be deemed as part of the constitution and enable Musharraf to remain as the most powerful President in Pakistan’s recent history.

The MMA, which has 68 votes in the National Assembly and is in power in two provinces, would enable him to get a two-thirds majority in Parliament and provincial assemblies.

While the MMA managed to extract a key concession that he should step down as Chief of the Army by December, 2004, it virtually agreed to permit Musharraf to have most of the executive powers. — PTI


Pak scientist denies helping Iran make bomb

Islamabad, December 25
Pakistan’s top nuclear scientist Abdul Qadir Khan, currently being questioned for allegedly assisting Iran in its nuclear programme, has denied the charges even as the government publicly assured him of support to tide over the crisis.

Khan, known as the father of the Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, told a private TV channel last night that he was being “targeted” internationally because he was responsible for his country equipping itself with nuclear bombs and missiles.

Denying that he had any role in the Iranian or Libyan nuclear programmes as alleged by the International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEA), Khan told Geo TV channel, “I am being accused for nothing, I never visited Iran, I don’t know any Iranian, nor I know any Iranian scientist.”

In the brief interview, Khan also said Pakistan had to develop its nuclear programme to defend itself and to “retain” its strategic stakes in Kashmir.

The interview came as a surprise as earlier in the day yesterday, he declined to speak to the press at a seminar which he attended along with Pakistan Science Technology Minister Atta-ur Rehman.

Rehman assured Khan that the government stood by him in the wake of ongoing investigations following Iran’s report to the IAEA about its nuclear programme. “We will always stand beside you firmly. Let us not be daunted by these things that are happening (to you),” he said.

Khan made his first public appearance as chief guest in the final session of the International Seminar on Science and Technology for Socio-Economic Development in OIC nations.

Besides refusing comment on reports of “debriefing”, Khan also refused to react to the minister’s assurances. He also declined to speak on concerns expressed by his daughter Dina Khan that he was “being made a scapegoat.”

Rehman, who was flanked by Khan at the seminar, was quoted in the media as saying that “we are really proud that you are one of us. It’s a privilege to be beside you inspite of all the ups and downs that you have faced during the last two decades and you seem to be facing now.” — PTI

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