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Taliban militants take villagers hostage in Pakistan

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KHAR, PAKISTAN — Dozens of militants coming from Afghanistan took scores of villagers hostage in Pakistan's northwest Thursday, sparking fighting that killed at least 10 people, Pakistani officials said.

In the eastern part of the country, Taliban gunmen opened fire on a compound housing policemen, killing nine of them, officials said.

The militants who staged the cross-border attack appeared to be targeting members of an anti-Taliban militia in Kitkot village near Pakistan's Bajaur tribal area, said Tariq Khan, a local government official.

Pakistan has railed against Afghan and NATO forces for not doing enough to stop Afghanistan-based militants from launching cross-border attacks, but has received little sympathy.

The U.S. and Afghan governments have long complained that Pakistan allows sanctuary to militants fighting in Afghanistan.

The militants who attacked Thursday came from Afghanistan's Kunar province and took hundreds of villagers hostage, including anti-Taliban militiamen, said Mr. Khan.

The Pakistani army surrounded the village and killed eight militants, prompting the insurgents to retaliate by killing two militiamen, he added.

Soldiers retrieved scores of villagers, but dozens more were still held by the militants or trapped in their homes by the fighting, said Mr. Khan and two security officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

The army called in helicopter gunships for support, but did not use them for fear of civilian casualties, Mr. Khan said.

The information could not be verified independently because the area is largely off-limits to reporters.

The police targeted in the eastern city of Lahore were training to become prison guards, said Habibur Rehman, chief of police in Punjab province, where Lahore is the capital.

Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was revenge for police torture of their fighters in prison. He spoke to the Associated Press by telephone from an undisclosed location.

In addition to the police who were killed, eight more were wounded, said Salman Saddiq, a government official.

The latest violence came against the backdrop of serious political instability in Pakistan.

The country's Supreme Court on Thursday ordered Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf to reopen an old corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari, a demand that the prime minister's predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani, ignored, leading the judges to convict him of contempt of court and remove him from office.

Aiming to avoid an identical fate for Mr. Ashraf, the ruling coalition pushed a new law through parliament this week that provides the prime minister and other senior government officials with greater protection against being charged with contempt. Mr. Zardari signed the bill Thursday, shortly before the Supreme Court hearing, said presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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