September 24, 2008

Change in Plans Saves Pakistani Top Leaders

By The Associated Press

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) - Pakistan's top leaders were to dine at the Marriott hotel devastated by a truck bombing over the weekend, but changed the venue at the last minute, a senior official said Monday. A hotel official, however, denied there were any plans for a government dinner.The attack that killed 53 people - including the Czech ambassador and two U.S. Defense Department employees - and wounded hundreds came at a time of strains in the U.S.-Pakistani alliance over increasing unilateral raids by U.S. forces in Afghanistan aimed at militants across the border in Pakistan. Two intelligence officials said Pakistani troops and tribesmen opened fire on two U.S. helicopters late Sunday after they crossed from Afghanistan into the northwest tribal region, where Taliban and al- Qaida militants are operating. The U.S. denied the report.Dubai- based TV channel Al-Arabiya reported it had received a tape from a little known group calling itself "Fedayeen al-Islam" - Arabic for "Islam commandos" - claiming responsibility for the hotel bombing Saturday and demanding an end to U.S.-Pakistan cooperation against Islamic militants.Pakistan's government is under U.S. pressure to crack down on the militants entrenched in the rugged, lawless tribal areas along the Afghan-Pakistan border, who are blamed for attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces in neighboring Afghanistan. Al-Qaida's leaders, including Osama bin Laden, are believed to be hiding in the tribal border region.Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, visiting Washington, said his government was proposing the U.S., Afghanistan and Pakistan create a joint military force with the power to operate on both sides of the border to fight militants. He said the idea was discussed at a meeting more than a month ago that also included Pakistani officials.Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik did not specify why the prime minister and president decided to move the dinner from the Marriott to the premier's house but said that decision was kept secret.

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