- The Washington Times - Friday, August 22, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | Two Taliban suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates to a huge weapons factory near Pakistan’s capital Thursday, killing at least 59 people and wounding 70 in one of the country’s worst terrorist attacks.

The blasts came just hours after a key party in the ruling coalition threatened to quit, deepening the power struggle that has followed Pervez Musharraf’s resignation as president.

The bombings hit one of Pakistan’s most sensitive military installations and underlined the threat posed by Islamic militants to the Muslim world’s only nuclear-armed nation as well as its war-ravaged neighbor, Afghanistan.

Workers were streaming through the gates of the tightly guarded factory in Wah, 20 miles west of Islamabad, during a shift change when the two bombs exploded. The force of the explosions knocked many people to the ground and sprayed others with shrapnel.

“I looked back and saw the limbs of my colleagues flying through the air,” said Shahid Bhatti, 29, his clothes soaked in blood.

Tanvir Lodhi of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories said 59 people died. Seventy others were wounded, said Mohammed Azhar, a hospital official. About 25,000 people work at the complex, making rifles, machine guns, ammunition, grenades and tank and artillery shells.

President Bush called Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to express sympathy for those killed in recent terrorist attacks in Pakistan.

The two men “reaffirmed their mutual support for going after these extremists that are a threat to both Pakistan, the United States and the entire world,” said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council.

Mr. Musharraf, who also received a call Thursday from Mr. Bush, resigned Monday to avoid the humiliation of impeachment.

Maulvi Umar, a spokesman for Pakistani Taliban groups, said the arms factory attack was to avenge air strikes on militants in Bajur, an extremist stronghold in the mountainous region near the Afghan border.

More bombings will be carried out in major cities, including the capital and the southern metropolis of Karachi, unless the offensives are halted, he said.

The coalition government, meanwhile, appeared to be veering toward collapse.

The two main parties, led by Asif Ali Zardari and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, worked together to hound Mr. Musharraf into quitting.

But since Monday, the parties have publicly squabbled over who should succeed Mr. Musharraf and over how to restore Supreme Court judges he fired last year.

Mr. Sharif’s party threatened Thursday to leave the ruling coalition unless the judges are quickly reinstated. Mr. Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party, which leads the coalition, appeared to be lining up smaller parties to keep control of parliament.

“The future of this coalition is linked to the restoration of judges,” Sharif spokesman Sadiqul Farooq said. “If the judges are not restored, we will prefer to sit on opposition benches.”

Mr. Sharif, bitter over his 1999 ouster and exile by Mr. Musharraf, has pressed hard for the return of the judges. But Mr. Zardari is less enthusiastic.

Analysts say Mr. Zardari also might fear that the ousted chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, would revive corruption cases against him. Mr. Musharraf killed off the cases against Mr. Zardari and his since-assassinated wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, as part of a failed effort to form a pro-Western power-sharing deal with Mrs. Bhutto.

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