Suicide bomber rams Pakistan military bus, kills 8

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MULTAN, Pakistan, Nov 1 (Reuters) A suicide bomber on a motorcycle rammed a Pakistan Air Force (PAF) bus, killing at least eight people today as militants inspired by al Qaeda intensified a campaign to destabilise President Pervez Musharraf.

The second suicide attack this week targeted a bus taking personnel to an air base in Sargodha in the central province of Punjab, the military said.

''Eight people have been killed including four officers,'' military spokesman Major-General Waheed Arshad said, adding civilians were among those killed. An air force statement said 27 people were wounded.

More than 700 people have been killed in militant linked violence and there have been more than 22 suicide attacks as the security situation in Pakistan deteriorated sharply in the past four months.

The country also faces political uncertainty, with an election due by January that is meant to mark a transition to civilian-led democracy.

President Pervez Musharraf, who came to power in a coup eight years ago, could ditch plans for the election, and impose emergency powers or martial law, according to some speculation.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule in the next few days on whether General Musharraf's re-election by parliament on Oct. 6 was legitimate. Rivals have challenged his right to have stood while still army chief.

Musharraf has said he will quit the army if he gets a second five-year term, and has allowed opposition leader Benazir Bhutto to return from self-imposed exile without fear of prosecution from a raft of old graft charges against her.

Bhutto yesterday put off plans to go back to see her husband and children in Dubai out of concern over the talk that Musharraf could invoke an emergency.

Pakistan has seen a surge in violence by militants linked to the Taliban and al Qaeda since the army stormed Red Mosque in the capital, Islamabad, to crush a Taliban-style movement in July.

Al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri, in audio and video tapes released in September, exhorted followers to wage war on Musharraf and Pakistan's security forces.

Seven people were killed in a suicide attack on Tuesday less than a kilometre from Musharraf's army residence in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, neighbouring Islamabad.

A suicide bomb attack killed 139 people at a rally in the city of Karachi on Oct. 19 to mark the return of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto after eight years of self-imposed exile.

The Pakistan army is fighting Islamist guerrillas in Waziristan and Swat, two tribal regions close to the Afghan border where support for the Taliban and al Qaeda runs high.

Security forces using artillery and helicopter gunships killed up to 18 militants in Swat, where scores of people have been killed in fighting since a suicide attacks killed 21 people, mostly soldiers a week ago.

Scores of people have been killed in a suicide attack and fighting between the security forces and militants in Swat valley in the North West Frontier Province in recent days.

REUTERS PD DS1240

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