Blast at Pakistan rally, shots fired at U.S. vehicle

ASD1243FV.jpgPESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – A blast hit a rally promoting autonomy for Pakistan’s gas-rich Baluchistan province on Tuesday, wounding more than 20 people, while in the city of Peshawar shots were fired at U.S. consulate staff.

Violent incidents have been increasing in nuclear-armed Pakistan in recent weeks, while its ruling politicians have been distracted by infighting.

U.S. ally Pervez Musharraf’s resignation as president under threat of impeachment last week was followed by bickering in the ruling coalition and the departure of one of its main parties.

Allies and analysts fear the squabbling could keep the government from dealing effectively with economic problems and violent Islamist militants, especially in northwestern areas on the Afghan border where militants have sanctuaries.

In the northwestern city of Peshawar, near the border, gunmen fired four shots at a U.S. consulate vehicle carrying three staff members on Tuesday but there were no injuries, police said.

Peshawar is the capital of Pakistan’s violence-plagued North West Frontier Province, and the United States has a heavily guarded consulate there.

“Gunmen in a landcruiser opened fire at the car but no one was hurt,” said city police official Raziq Khan.

U.S. embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said there was a “security incident” involving a U.S. consulate vehicle and three employees.

“There were no injuries and minimal damage to the vehicle,” Fintor said.

He declined to say who was in the vehicle but police said one passenger was the consulate’s principal officer.

U.S. diplomatic staff usually travel in armoured vehicles but Fintor said he did not know if the vehicle attacked on Tuesday was armored.

Bombers have tried to attack the U.S. consulate in the southern city of Karachi since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and a U.S. diplomat was killed in a suicide blast in Karachi in 2006.

In Baluchistan, a Reuters photographer at the rally in the town of Dera Allah Yar, 300 km (200 miles) south of the Baluchistan capital Quetta, said he saw several bodies at the scene of the blast but police said there were no dead.

“The device was planted on a motorcycle and went off when activists of a nationalist party were marching. There were no deaths but 21 people were wounded,” said senior police officer Nazir Ahmed Kurd.

Nationalists politicians and autonomy-seeking rebels have been pushing for greater control of Baluchistan’s gas and mineral resources for decades.

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