Pakistan suicide bomber kills eight

A suicide bomber blew himself up outside a restaurant in Pakistan\’s garrison city of Rawalpindi on Monday, killing at least eight people and wounding 17 others, police said.

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“The suicide bomber blew himself up on a motorbike outside a restaurant, which was set up close to the cab stand,” said senior police commander Nasir Durrani in the city that neighbours the capital, Islamabad.

“Nine were killed including the suicide bomber and 17 are wounded,” Rawalpindi City police chief Inyat Ullah Farooqi told reporters.

He said the eight people who were killed were civilians and that the suicide bomber had been in a vehicle when he detonated his explosives.

May have been planned for ‘long march’

Officials said the bomber was probably deployed to attack a mass protest, which had been scheduled in Rawalpindi and Islamabad Monday, but was called off after the government vowed to reinstate the country\’s top judge.

“We had prior information that there could be an attack during the \’long march\’ in Rawalpindi and Islamabad. The people who did this are trying to destabilise Pakistan,” interior ministry chief Rehman Malik told reporters.

The attack ripped through a main road in a working class area of Rawalpindi, the city in which Pakistan\’s powerful military is headquartered, destroying several nearby cars and throwing the area into panic.

The bodies of the dead were taken to different hospitals in the city.

“Four bodies were brought to the hospital and one injured person,” said Dr. Mohammed Zia at the Benazir Bhutto hospital in Rawalpindi.

“The fourth body is in pieces. An arm is the only intact piece,” he added.

Deadly spate of attacks

Pakistan, a key US ally, has been reeling from around 200 suicide and bomb attacks that have killed more than 1,600 people since government forces besieged gunmen holed up in a radical mosque in Islamabad in July 2007.

Much of the violence has been concentrated in northwest Pakistan, where the army has been bogged down fighting Taliban hardliners and Al-Qaeda extremists, who fled there after the 2001 US-led invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan.

Lawyers and political opposition activists called on thousands of people to stage a so-called \’long march\’ on Islamabad Monday to demand that the President Asif Ali Zardari reinstate the country\’s chief justice.

But in a significant change to avert fears of violence, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced at dawn that the government would restore chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and end its crackdown on the protests.

Main opposition leader Nawaz Sharif welcomed what he called a historic achievement and promptly called off the mass protest march.