Pakistan orders security for media after attack

News and Press Release
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* Ministry calls for protection at press clubs

* Attack exposes a new militant tactic

* International group denounces attack on press freedom

By Alamgir Bitani

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Dec 23 (Reuters) - Pakistani authorities ordered "foolproof" security on Wednesday for journalists across the country a day after a suicide bomber attacked a press club in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

The attack on the club was the latest in a surge of militant strikes in Peshawar which began when the army went on the offensive against Pakistani Taliban militants in their South Waziristan stronghold on the Afghan border in October.

Reporters have been attacked and killed in Pakistan's ethnic Pashtun tribal regions along the Afghan border and elsewhere, but the Tuesday blast was the first on a reporters' club in a city.

The blast indicated a new trend in terrorist attacks and posed a serious threat, the Interior Ministry said.

"In order to avert such attacks in future, foolproof security arrangements for all press clubs ... and prominent media persons have to be ensured," the ministry said in an order to provincial interior departments.

A lone bomber wearing a suicide vest blew himself up at the gate of the club when a police guard tried to stop him from geting in, killing three people and wounding 17.

The club released closed-circuit television footage of the attack showing a man wearing a black jacket over a traditional loose tunic and baggy trousers talking to the guard as three other men stood nearby, just inside the club premises.

The club is a meeting place for journalists in the city, the gateway to the Khyber Pass and an ancient trading hub between South Asia's plains and the mountains of Afghanistan.

During the 1980s, the city was a hub for Islamist fighters, including Osama bin Laden, battling Soviet occupiers in nearby Afghanistan.


International press freedom group Reporters Without Borders condemned the attack.

"Threats against the Pakistani media and press clubs are nothing new, but it is outrageous that this press freedom sanctuary should be targeted in this fashion," the group said.

Security is already very tight in Peshawar and elsewhere with police checkposts on roads and guards at the gates of public buildings.

But analysts say it is virtually impossible to stop bombers on foot or in cars who are prepared to blow themselves up when challenged.

Deteriorating security, especially in the northwest, has coincided with rising political troubles for President Asif Ali Zardari and his government.

Zardari, widower of assassinated former prime minister Benzair Bhutto, has been facing calls to step down since the Supreme Court last week threw out an amnesty that had protected him, several of his aides and government ministers and thousands of others from corruption charges.

The unpopular Zardari, close to the United States, has rejected the calls to quit. He and his party also said no ministers would step down in the face of a "witch-hunt".

Zardari has been dogged by accusations of graft from the 1990s when Bhutto served two terms as prime minister. He says the charges were politically motivated.

The political and security problems best Pakistan amid increased U.S. pressure on its nuclear-armed ally to clear out Afghan Taliban along the border from where they launch attacks on U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has rejected the calls, saying it cannot open too many fronts at the same time. (For full coverage of Pakistan and Afghanistan, click on [ID:nAFPAK] (For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see: an) (Additional reporting/Writing by Kamran Haider; Editing by Robert Birsel and Ron Popeski)

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