Twin Pakistan suicide blasts kill at least 16

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RAWALPINDI, Nov 24 (Reuters) Twin suicide blasts killed at least 16 people today in the Pakistani garrison town of Rawalpindi adjoining Islamabad, the military said, including 13 aboard a defence ministry bus.

A suicide bomber rammed a car into the back of the bus outside an intelligence service office, while another bomber blew up his car at a checkpoint outside army headquarters.

The attacks come on the heels of a string of suicide bombings across Pakistan blamed on Islamist militants amid growing insurgency, and as the country heads towards a general election in early January in political convulsions under emergency rule.

''There's a total of 15 people who have lost their lives in the attacks, two suicide bombers and 13 others,'' army spokesman Major-General Waheed Arshad said. ''Both were suicide attacks.'' ''There were 50 people sitting in the bus. Many are injured, many are OK,'' he said.

Officials had earlier reported a security official was killed in the blast near army headquarters.

A Reuters witness saw the charred remains of the bus just inside the gate of the intelligence service compound, before police cordoned off the area and put up tents to obscure the view.

Twin suicide blasts in Rawalpindi in September killed 25 people and wounded 70, many of them aboard an intelligence services bus. Another suicide attack killed 15 soldiers near the capital the same month.

And in late October a suicide attacker blew himself up near Musharraf's army residence in Rawalpindi, killing 7 people.

The blasts come amid political turmoil in Pakistan, which is still under emergency rule imposed by Musharraf in an apparent bid to safeguard his presidency from challenges to his re-election. A purged Supreme Court has since dismissed them.

Further stirring the political mix, Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister deposed by Musharraf in a 1999 coup, plans to return to Pakistan from Saudi Arabian exile tomorrow his brother Shahbaz Sharif told a Pakistani news channel.

General Musharraf, under intense criticism at home and abroad for imposing emergency rule three weeks ago, agreed to Sharif's return in discussions with Saudi King Abdullah in Riyadh this week, according to a leader of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League.

REUTERS SKB VC1050

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