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93 dead after suicide bomb in Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Jan 2 – Investigators sifted through rubble Saturday after a suicide car bomber detonated his explosives-filled vehicle in a crowd watching a volleyball game in northwest Pakistan, killing at least 93.

Friday\’s bombing marked a bloody start to 2010 for Pakistan, which has seen a surge in attacks blamed on the Taliban in recent months as Islamist fighters avenge military operations aimed at crushing their northwest strongholds.

The huge blast was Pakistan\’s deadliest in more than two months, triggering the collapse of more than 20 houses, some with families inside, in a village bordering a Taliban stronghold, officials said.

The attack was condemned by Britain and the United States, with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowing her country would continue supporting Pakistani people "in their efforts to chart their own future free from fear and intimidation."

The bomber detonated the explosives as fans gathered at a volleyball court to watch two teams compete in Shah Hasan Khan, a village in Bannu district, which borders the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan.

"The villagers were watching the match between the two village teams when the bomber drove his double-cabin pick-up vehicle into them and blew it up," district police chief Mohammad Ayub Khan told AFP.

"Five more people died overnight in the government\’s main hospital in Lakki Marwat town, raising the death toll to 93," he said.

Six children and five paramilitary soldiers were among the dead, he said.

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The bomber appeared to have used 300 kilograms of explosives, Khan said, adding that a three-member team had been formed to investigate the attack.

The tournament was organised by a local peace committee who had supported a government operation to expel militants from the area, Khan said.

It was the highest death toll from a suspected militant strike since a massive car bomb on October 28 killed 125 people in a crowded market in Peshawar, the northwestern provincial capital.

Ramzan Bittani, a 33-year-old driver, told AFP by telephone from a local hospital that he had left the match to take a call.

"As I was listening, I saw a huge blue and white flash followed by an ear-piercing blast. When I was able to figure out what had happened, I saw bodies and smoke all around. My hand was fractured," he said.

Anwer Khan, 18, a student, said that he had just stepped out of his house and he saw a black pick-up speeding up towards the spectators.

"A giant flame leaped towards the sky. There was bright light everywhere, just like a flash, and then a very huge blast shook everything. Two pellets hit my forehead and blood started flowing," Khan said.

Many of the injured complained of a lack of facilities at the Lakki Marwat hospital.

"There are no medicines and bedding available in the hospital and the government should take note of the situation," Taj Alam, a labourer with a shoulder injury, told AFP.

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He said that locals helped the hospital administration by bringing beds from their houses for the injured.

A resident of Bannu, Riaz Ahmad, said that pieces of human flash and dried blood could still be seen on the ground, adding that people were still sifting through the rubble to find dead bodies and injured.

Khan, the district police chief, blamed the bomb attack on Islamist extremists who last year had been the target of a military operation in Bannu.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told reporters in Islamabad that the government and the people were determined to wipe out terrorism from the country.

"The entire nation is against terrorists," he said. "Their (terrorist) agenda is foreign — their agenda is to destabilise the government, deteriorate law and order and create fear and panic."

Gilani said that "we have the ability and resolve to eliminate terrorists," and that the international community would help Pakistan in this quest.

Security has plummeted over the past two and a half years in Pakistan, where militant violence has killed more than 2,800 people since July 2007.

The northwest has suffered the brunt of the militants\’ campaign, with suicide bombings increasingly targeting civilians.

Elsewhere, militants blew up two boys\’s schools and a basic health unit in the lawless Bajaur tribal region late on Friday, officials said.

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Pakistan\’s northwestern tribal belt has become a stronghold for hundreds of extremists who fled Afghanistan after a US-led invasion toppled the hardline Taliban regime in late 2001.

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