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Pak PM escapes assassination attempt

Yousaf Raza Gilani
Published on 4 Sep. 2008 1:16 AM IST
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Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani escaped an apparent assassination attempt when two shots hit his motorcade Wednesday, just three days before the country's presidential election. Officials said Gilani was not in the car at the time, but the brazen daytime attack underscored the political turmoil and violence that have been shadowing the world's only nuclear-armed Islamic nation. Gilani's spokesman initially said he was in the vehicle but later declined to confirm that, amid the confusion surrounding the shooting in Rawalpindi, the garrison town home to Pakistan military headquarters. "Two bullets hit the window glass of the bulletproof car," the spokesman, Zahid Bashir, told AFP. "By the grace of Allah, the prime minister is safe." Television pictures showed shattered glass in the window of a black Mercedes which forms part of the prime ministerial motorcade. Officials said it was on its way to pick Gilani up at the airport. "The prime minister and his staff were not in the car," interior secretary Kamal Shah told AFP. "The prime minister had not yet landed from Lahore when the incident took place. The motorcade was on its way to the airport to receive him." Interior ministry chief Rehman Malik described the incident as "a cowardly act." "We will catch whoever has done it," he told reporters in the southern city of Karachi. "It is not politics, but terrorism, and we condemn it." Information Minister Sherry Rehman, announcing that an investigation had been launched into the incident, told state television: "Those who had designs, have failed." Gilani has been prime minister since March after an election win by his Pakistan People's Party (PPP), the party of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in Rawalpindi in December. Pakistan has a long history of political bloodshed, and the attempt on Gilani's life comes just three days before lawmakers will choose the country's new president to replace Pervez Musharraf on Saturday. Musharraf, who survived multiple attempts on his life while in office, resigned last month after the ruling coalition threatened to impeach him. Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, is the frontrunner in Saturday's three-way race. The attempt to kill Gilani comes amid mounting international concern about the stability of Pakistan, a vital ally in the US-led "war on terror" that is increasingly seen as a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants. Musharraf's resignation and the race to replace him come amid a prolonged battle with Islamic militants who have carried out a series of suicide bombings and clashed with troops on the Afghan border. A double Taliban suicide bombing at Pakistan's biggest weapons factory last month killed dozens of people. It was the deadliest ever attack on a Pakistani military site, and put fresh pressure on the government to tackle militants. Pakistan's remote tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan have become a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.

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