04/12/2006, 00.00
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Blast kills 57 at religious rally in Pakistan

The attack targeted Sunni Muslims celebrating the birthday of Prophet Mohammed. Until now, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Karachi (AsiaNews/Agencies) - A suspected suicide bomber has blown himself up in the Pakistani city of Karachi, killing at least 57 people. It is the deadliest bombing in Pakistan for nearly 20 years.

The attack targeted Sunni Muslims celebrating the birthday of Islam's Prophet Mohammed.

Officials say one or possibly two attackers climbed onto a wooden stage in the southern city's Nishtar Park as around 50,000 people offered sunset prayers. They then approached the Sunni clerics and detonated powerful bombs.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which has sparked fears of further violence between majority Sunnis and Pakistan's minority Shiite community. Militants from both communities have a history of violence.

Pakistani authorities have placed troops on alert for the funeral of a Sunni Muslim leader killed in the bombing.

Officials say they expect about 20,000 people to turn out to farewell Abbas Qadri, the influential chief of Pakistan's moderate Sunni Tehreek religious party.His deputy and party spokesman were also killed, along with the leaders of two other moderate Sunni factions.

A spokesman for the provincial government, of southern Sindh province, Salahuddin Haider, has urged people to remain calm. Shortly after the bomb went off, angry people waving black flags took to the streets. Witnesses say they burned motorcycles, cars, a bus and a fire engine. Police fired teargas to disperse them.

President Pervez Musharraf has strongly condemned the attack and ordered security to be stepped up at mosques.Sunnis account for 77% of the population of more than 165 million people, while 20% are Shi'ites.


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See also
New violence and old grudges between Shi'ites and Sunnis
Al-Qaeda behind Pakistani mosque attack
Increased security in Iraq for Shi'ite Ashoura
Iraqi parliament to meet on Sunday, but no agreement yet on premier
"War of the mosques" has dangerous political implications


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