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Deadly blast targets Pakistani protest rally

Arif Ali, AFP | Pakistani security officials inspect the site of a powerful explosion in Lahore on February 13, 2017.

A large bomb blast ripped through a protest rally in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Monday, killing at least 10 people and wounding nearly 60 in an attack claimed by a breakaway Taliban faction.

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The blast occurred as a large group of pharmacists, who were protesting new amendments to a law governing drug sales, had gathered in front of the Punjab provincial assembly. There was a significant presence of law enforcement officials in the area at the time of the attack.

Lahore is the capital of Pakistan's most populous Punjab province.

A Taliban splinter group called Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed the attack in a text message, saying it was revenge for Pakistani military operations against Islamic militants in tribal regions along the Afghan border.

TV footage of the attack featured a loud bang followed by smoke and fire billowing up from the scene as people fled, some of them carrying the wounded. "We just couldn't understand what happened," Tufail Nabi told local Geo News TV. "It was as if some big building collapsed," he said as he limped away.

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar is one of several splinter groups from the Pakistani Taliban, which has carried out scores of attacks against security forces and religious minorities. In recent years, Pakistan has had launched several offensives against the Taliban and other Islamic militant groups in the tribal regions.

Relatively peaceful Pakistani city hit again

Lahore, the country's cultural capital, suffered one of Pakistan's deadliest attacks during 2016, a Taliban suicide bomb in a park on Easter that killed more than 70, including many children.

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar also claimed responsibility for the Easter Day attack.

But blasts have generally been rare in the teeming city in recent years, as casualties from extremist attacks in Pakistan dropped significantly in 2015 and 2016.

Security in Pakistan has vastly improved in recent years but jihadist groups such as the Pakistani Taliban, the Islamic State (IS) group, as well as several splinter groups still pose a threat and have carried out mass attacks.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said the attacks will not weaken Pakistan's resolve in fight against militancy.

"We have fought this fight against the terrorists among us, and will continue to fight it until we liberate our people of this cancer, and avenge those who have laid down their lives for us," Sharif said in a statement.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)
 

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