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Asia-pacific

Pakistan erupts in anger as teenage activist fights for life

Video by Siobhán SILKE

Latest update : 2012-10-11

Pakistani officials have offered a 10 million rupee reward for information on the gun attack on Malala Yousufzai, a 14-year-old blogger known for her activism against religious extremists. The Taliban has promised to finish the job if she survives.

Pakistanis held protests and public prayers for 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai on Wednesday as doctors scrambled to save the teenage activist who was shot and seriously wounded by Taliban gunmen in the country’s northwest.

Yousufzai, a schoolgirl who rose to prominence in 2009 when she spoke out against Islamist extremists who had temporarily closed down her school, was shot in the head and neck by gunmen on Tuesday when she was leaving school in the restive Swat valley.

Doctors succeeded in removing the bullet that had lodged near her spine early on Wednesday, Rezaul Hasan from the Press Trust of India told FRANCE24, adding that the teenager remained in critical condition.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik has ordered military and medical staff to transfer Yousufzai out of the country whenever it is deemed possible, The Pakistan News Service reported. On Thursday, she was flown from Peshawar to a specialist hospital in the army garrison town of Rawalpindi.

Yousufzai was being kept unconscious by medical staff.

A spokesman for the Taliban told the BBC on Tuesday that the 14-year-old would not be spared if she survived Tuesday’s attack.

Prayers and protests

Prayers for Yousufzai’s recovery and anti-Taliban protests were held in Mingora – the Swat valley’s main city and the activist girl’s hometown – as well as in the capital, Islamabad, and the eastern city of Lahore.

Pakistan's lower house of parliament on Wednesday suspended normal proceedings to condemn the attack and pray for Yousufzai.

"Malala Yousafzai is a role model for all Pakistan and we should stand united to fight the elements that attacked the 14-year-old girl," said Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.

Schools closed across Swat in protest over the attack, which also wounded two other girls.

The powerful army chief General Ashfaq Kayani visited Yousufzai on Wednesday and said it was time to "further unite and stand up to fight the propagators of such barbaric mindset and their sympathizers."

"We wish to bring home a simple message: We refuse to bow before terror. We will fight, regardless of the cost, we will prevail God willing," he said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also condemned the shooting on Wednesday, saying the tragedy should rally support for “brave young women (...) who struggle against tradition and culture and even outright hostility, and sometimes violence.”

Uncertain future for Swat

Pakistani officials in Yousufzai’s hometown have offered a 10 million rupee ($104,000) reward for information leading to the capture of her attackers, who escaped after the shooting.

Yousufzai won plaudits at home and abroad for speaking out against the Pakistani Taliban at a time when Islamabad seemed to be appeasing the Islamist extremists.

After an initially successful offensive in the Swat valley in 2009, the Taliban closed down many schools for girls, including Yousufzai’s, and burned down others.

At that time a documentary team filmed a weeping Yousufzai, who later launched a blog denouncing the Taliban on the BBC’s Urdu website.

Pakistan’s army eventually retook control of Swat later that year, and Yousufzai went on to receive the country’s highest civilian award. She was also nominated for an international children's peace award.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2012-10-10

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