Thousands attend funeral of Pakistan politician killed by Taliban

Pakistani residents offer funeral prayers for blast victims, who were killed in a suicide bombing at an election rally, during their funeral in Peshawar on July 11, 2018. The death toll in a suicide bombing at an election rally in northwestern Pakistan rose to 20 as Taliban militants claimed responsibility, officials said, in the first major attack ahead of July 25 polls. (AFP)
Updated 11 July 2018

Thousands attend funeral of Pakistan politician killed by Taliban

  • Militants have targeted politicians, religious gatherings, security forces and even schools in Peshawar
  • Police said the bomber struck when Bilour was about to address some 200 supporters

PESHAWAR: Thousands flocked to the funeral Wednesday of a politician killed by a Taliban suicide bomber in northwestern Pakistan's Peshawar, hours after the explosion left 20 dead in the first major attack ahead of July 25 polls.
A senior police official estimated that 30,000 people attended the funeral of the local leader of the Awami National Party (ANP), Haroon Bilour, was among those killed in the attack late Tuesday during an election rally.
Party workers cried and hugged, while others looked on in shock as funeral prayers were said.
Markets were also closed across the bustling frontier hub near the Afghan border out of respect for those killed in the attack.
The ANP has been targeted by Islamist militants in the past over its vocal opposition to extremist groups like the Taliban.
The bombing came hours after Pakistan's military spokesman said there were security threats ahead of the national elections.
Bomb disposal chief Shafqat Malik told AFP that the suicide bomber -- who he said was around 16 years old -- had eight kilograms (18 pounds) of explosives and three kilograms of pellets, ball bearings and other shrapnel on his body.
Peshawar lawyers went on strike on Wednesday to protest and mourn the death of Haroon, who was also a barrister.
Bilour was one of the ANP's election candidates and belonged to an influential political family in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, of which Peshawar is the capital.
His father Bashir Bilour, one of the ANP's top leaders, was also killed by a suicide bomber in 2012.
Police said the bomber struck when Bilour was about to address some 200 supporters.
Mohammad Khorasani, spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militant group, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement.
He said the militants "have already declared a war" on the ANP and called on the public to keep away from them, "or you will be responsible for your own loss".
Peshawar is considered a gateway to Pakistan's troubled semi-autonomous tribal regions, where many militant groups -- including Al-Qaeda -- operated until the government launched operations to oust them.
The attack comes weeks after the TTP's leader Maulana Fazlullah was killed in a drone strike in Afghanistan in what the Pakistani army called a "positive development".
Militants have targeted politicians, religious gatherings, security forces and even schools in Peshawar.
But security across Pakistan, including in Peshawar, has dramatically improved since government and military operations in recent years.
Analysts warn however that Pakistan has yet to tackle the root causes of extremism.


Indian police agree to allow protesting farmers into capital

Updated 11 min 44 sec ago

Indian police agree to allow protesting farmers into capital

  • The farmers are protesting new agricultural laws that they fear will reduce their earnings in favor of corporations

NEW DELHI: Thousands of angry Indian farmers protesting new agricultural laws were allowed to enter the capital late Friday after they clashed with police who had blocked them at the outskirts of New Delhi.
The farmers, who fear new legislation will reduce their earnings and give more power to corporations, will be escorted to a protest site in New Delhi, police said in a statement. It was not immediately clear where the protests would be held.
For the last two months, farmer unions have rejected the laws, which were passed in September, and have camped on highways in Punjab and Haryana states. They say the measure could cause the government to stop buying grain at guaranteed prices and result in their being exploited by corporations that would buy their crops at cheap prices.
The government says the laws are needed to reform agriculture by giving farmers the freedom to market their produce and boosting production through private investment.
The farmers began their march to the capital on Thursday to pressure Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to abolish the laws, but were stopped by large numbers of security personnel in riot gear on the boundary between New Delhi and Haryana state.
They resumed their march early Friday, unfazed by overnight rain and chilly winter temperatures.
Heading toward New Delhi on tractors and cars, the farmers were again blocked by police at the capital’s fringes. This led to clashes with police, who used tear gas, water cannons and baton charges to push them back.
In response, farmers used tractors to clear walls of concrete, shipping containers and parked trucks set up by police on roads leading to the capital.
Some protesters also threw stones at officers and waved the flags of farmer unions. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
“We are fighting for our rights. We won’t rest until we reach the capital and force the government to abolish these black laws,” said Majhinder Singh Dhaliwal, a farmer leader.
Earlier, in a bid to stop the protesters from riding commuter trains into the capital, the Delhi Metro suspended some services. Traffic slowed to a crawl as vehicles were checked along state boundaries, leading to huge jams on some highways.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh urged the federal government to initiate talks with protest leaders. Many of the farmers are from Punjab, one of the largest agricultural states in India.
“The voice of farmers cannot be muzzled indefinitely,” Singh wrote on Twitter.
Negotiations between the leaders of farmer unions and the government to defuse the standoff have been unsuccessful. Farmers say they will continue to protest until the government rolls back the laws.
Opposition parties and some Modi allies have called the laws anti-farmer and pro-corporation.
Farmers have long been seen as the heart and soul of India, where agriculture supports more than half of the country’s 1.3 billion people. But farmers have also seen their economic clout diminish over the last three decades. Once accounting for a third of India’s gross domestic product, they now produce only 15% of the country’s $2.9 trillion economy.
Farmers often complain of being ignored and hold frequent protests to demand better crop prices, more loan waivers and irrigation systems to guarantee water during dry spells.