Musharraf rules out Pakistan emergency over attacks

July 19, 2007 - 0:0

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Wednesday ruled out declaring an emergency amid a rising tide of militant attacks that have killed more than 130 people this month, officials said.

Elections due by the end of this year are regarded as crucial to Pakistan's future, and Musharraf assured newspaper editors that he wouldn't respond to growing insecurity by calling a state of emergency as ""the solution lies in the democratic process."" ""We are in direct confrontation with the extremist forces -- moderates versus extremists,"" the state news agency quoted him as saying. In the latest violence, 17 soldiers and as many militants were killed in two ambushes in North Waziristan on the Afghan border, a day after a suicide bomber killed 17 people in the capital, Islamabad. Violence has spiraled since government forces stormed Islamabad's Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, compound last week, ending a week-long siege. The government said 102 people were killed during the entire operation to crush a militant movement led by rebel clerics. Pakistan's main stock index, having gained 40 percent since the start of the year, fell more than 3 percent because of the escalating violence, dealers said. At the same time as militants are believed to be taking revenge for the bloodbath in the capital, pro-Taliban fighters have abandoned a 10-month-old peace pact in North Waziristan, a tribal region regarded as a safe haven for al Qaeda. The surge in violence on the Pakistani side of the border comes as Britain's parliament said there were worrying signs the Taliban were growing stronger in Afghanistan. The 17 soldiers were killed in an ambush while on patrol in the Datta Khel area, 40 km (25 miles) west of the region's main town, Miranshah. Around a dozen militants were killed in fighting that followed, a military official said. Separately, five militants were killed when they tried to ambush a convoy east of Miranshah, he said. Suicide bombers had already killed scores of police and soldiers in attacks this month in the northwest. Attacks in the Pakistani capital have been rare but the city police chief told reporters after Tuesday night's suicide bomb attack that he had information that several bombers had entered the capital. The attack targeted supporters of the country's suspended chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, who had been due to speak to lawyers at a nearby courthouse later that evening. Aside from the 17 killed, more than 60 people were wounded. Many victims belonged to former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party. Speaking afterwards from self-exile in London, Bhutto voiced fears that ""hidden hands"" were trying to create a pretext for Musharraf to impose an emergency. Army chief Musharraf, an important U.S. ally, has for months ruled out an emergency to stifle a campaign against his rule by lawyers angry about his move to dismiss the chief justice, and by opposition parties demanding full democracy. Musharraf suspended Chaudhry on March 9 after accusing him of misconduct. The Supreme Court is due to deliver a judgment on the merits of the government's case later this week