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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Huge blast rocks Pakistani city

Powerful car bomb hits Lahore

Rescuers are searching the rubble of a police building in Lahore after a bomb attack killed at least 23 people and injured 200 in Pakistan's second city.

Gunmen reportedly opened fire on guards before detonating a car bomb which flattened the emergency response building at police HQ.

Nearby offices of the ISI intelligence service were also damaged.

The interior ministry chief linked the attack to Taliban insurgents whom troops are battling in the Swat valley.

"Enemies of Pakistan who want to destabilise the country are coming here after their defeat in Swat," Rehman Malik said.

"There is a war and this is a war for our survival," he added.

Previous attacks on Lahore, Pakistan's second-largest city, were also blamed on the Taliban.

'They started firing'

Rescuers speaking unofficially put the death toll at 35, although this figure is unconfirmed.

I ran out of the building and saw a surreal huge ring of white smoke rise into air
Matthias Gattermeier
eyewitness in Lahore, speaking to BBC

Sajjad Bhutta, a senior government official in Lahore, told reporters that a car carrying several gunmen had pulled up in a street between the emergency response building and the ISI offices.

"As some people came out from that vehicle and started firing at the ISI office, the guards from inside that building returned fire," he was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

"As the firing continued, the car suddenly exploded."

Issam Ahmed, a journalist with the Dawn newspaper in Lahore who arrived at the scene about 20 minutes after the blast, told the BBC he could still hear shooting in the area.

A least two arrests were made.

Rescue workers were seen clambering over a pile of concrete which was all that remained of the emergency response headquarters.

They were able to drag out several of the injured. Semi-conscious policemen could be seen being carried out in blood-stained uniforms.

Debris was scattered on the road outside. Officials were seen rushing towards the buildings to cordon off the area.

The blast also destroyed several cars parked or standing on the main Mall road opposite to the police building.

Bulldozers and other heavy lifting equipment were brought in as many people were feared to be trapped under the debris.

Altercations also took place between members of the media and security personnel as the former tried to get in to the site of the blast.

'Surreal scene'

Zubair, a BBC News website reader in Lahore, described hearing the explosion: "I was sitting in my office on Lawrence Road [about 500m from the site] when a huge explosion rocked our entire building.

BBC map

"Glass windows shattered to pieces and the ceiling came down on the floor. I ran outside the building to nearby Jinnah Garden. I could hear gunfire which lasted for about 10 minutes and then I saw ambulance and police rushed to the scene."

Matthias Gattermeier, an Austrian reader also in Lahore, said his office building had been shaken so hard he thought it would collapse.

"We first thought the explosion happened far closer by, but the blast was just so massive," he said.

"I ran out of the building and saw a surreal huge ring of white smoke rise into air. Within minutes police and military blocked the streets. Disaster units and emergency are going in and out in every minute. The streets are full of people."

Lahore, Pakistan's second-largest city, has seen bomb attacks with increasing frequency.

Weeks before a police college was attacked in March, with eight people killed, militants attacked the Sri Lanka cricket team in the city, killing six police guards.

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