Death toll rises 52 in Pakistan

PESHAWAR: The death toll from the suicide car bombing in Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar has risen to 52 after three more people died in hospital overnight, police and health officials said Saturday.

The massive blast ripped through a packed market at midday on Friday killing at least 49 people and injuring over 100.

Charred corpses were strewn in a shopping area of the city's main Khyber Bazaar, with cars reduced to burning wrecks and a city bus destroyed and flung on its side.

"Three seriously injured died in the hospital and 15 more are in serious condition," said doctor Hameed Afridi, the chief executive of Peshawar's main Lady Reading Hospital.

"We are trying our best to save their lives," Afridi said, adding that 47 dead bodies have been identified and handed over to relatives.

Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik blamed the Taliban for the attack and said it could force the army to bring forward a planned operation to wipe out militant strongholds in the northwest tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

Peshawar is the main city in the northwest and has been a frequent target of extremists linked to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

"They are compelling us to launch the operation in South Waziristan early. We will take a decision on the operation against terrorists over the next few days," Malik told reporters in Islamabad on Friday.

It was the sixth bombing in Peshawar in four months in which 77 people have been killed. It comes as the Pakistani Taliban have vowed to increase attacks to avenge the killing of their leader Baitullah Mehsud in a US drone strike in August.

"Senior police experts are investigating the blast, we have got some clues which can not be disclosed at this juncture," Liaqat Ali, police chief of the troubled capital Peshawar told AFP.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani "strongly condemned" the bombing, expressing his government's resolve to continue action against extremists, his office said in a statement.

The military is wrapping up a fierce offensive against Taliban rebels in the northwestern Swat valley launched in April.

Friday's blast is the deadliest in Pakistan since March this year, when a suicide bomber attacked a packed mosque in the northwestern town of Jamrud at prayer time, killing around 50 people.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on Monday on a UN office in Islamabad, which killed five aid workers.