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Pakistan tightens security ahead of elections
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Police and security forces were obviously on high alert in Pakistan's major cities on Friday, the first day of the sensitive month of Muharram on Islamic calendar and just one day after a deadly suicide attack in the eastern city of Lahore.

Several police officers were guarding outside the fence on the Mall Road in front of the High Court, the site of Thursday's suicide attack in the downtown area that killed about 20, mostly police officers on duty maintaining order at the gathering of some judges in a protest.

They were standing meters apart from each other, a manner in sharp contrast to the many policemen close together at the spot on Thursday, and were obviously on higher alert to local residents and reporters.

"In the past, Lahore was peaceful. Now when the blast happened, people were shocked," said Mudasir Butt, a local resident, adding that the last blast in Lahore was two years ago.

Shahzad Ahamed, who lives in Lahore, said Lahore had been "a very peaceful city, even when riots gripped Karachi in the aftermath of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's assassination on Dec. 27."

Pakistani President Musharraf condemned the attack in Lahore on Thursday, saying the resolve of the country to fight terrorism would not be affected.

The number of policemen in capital Islamabad on Friday was about as usual but they obviously stepped up security check procedures, Xinhua correspondents witnessed.

Police were also seen guarding outside Mushid Shuda, a popular mosque near the High Court in downtown Lahore that saw thousands of the public offering their prayers on Friday.

The police, holding rifles, were standing in a line, largely silent and meters apart from each other, eyeing visitors in a vigilant manner.

"Security checks were not that strict," said local resident Gulzar, "this is because, on one hand, there was a suicide attack yesterday in Lahore, and, on the other hand, it is the beginning of Muharram today."

Muharram is the first month of the Islamic year. Its first day, although not much celebrated, begins a period of mourning observed by most Shiites, with the peak at Ashurah, the 10th day of Muharram.

Pakistan's parliamentary elections, originally scheduled for Jan. 8, have been postponed for 40 days until after Muharram.

Caretaker Prime Minister Muhammadmian Soomro has said the government would take measures and provide all possible assistance for security forces for ensuring law and order during Muharram.

Azhar Ali Farooqi, a senior police official in Karachi, said contingents of the local police were ready to tackle any unwonted situation.
(Xinhua News Agency January 12, 2008)

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