Blast hits Pakistan hospital

A bomb blast outside the emergency gate of a hospital in Pakistan's volatile north-west killed at least 12 people and wounded 15 others today, a police inspector said.

The attack occurred a day after Pervez Musharraf stepped down as Pakistan's president, adding to the political uncertainty in a country grappling with Islamist extremist threats.

It also occurred amid an ongoing military offensive in a nearby tribal region that has left hundreds dead and spurred promises of militant revenge.

An Associated Press reporter at the scene of Dera Ismail Khan District Hospital saw 18 bodies on the ground. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the explosion.

"We are not sure whether it's a suicide blast," police inspector Salahuddin Kundi said.

Pakistan's northwest has been plagued with militant violence.

The country's tribal regions along the Afghan border in particular are considered havens for Taliban and al-Qaida-linked insurgents, many of whom are believed involved in attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

In recent weeks, the military has battled insurgents in Bajur tribal region.

On Tuesday, police said security forces backed by helicopter gunships and artillery pounded targeted insurgents in the area, killing 11 suspected militants and five civilians over a 24-hour period.

Security forces expedited the shelling after militants attacked a paramilitary post near the Afghan border, said Fazal Rabbi, a police commander in Bajur. He said Tuesday he did not know if any of the paramilitary troops were killed in that attack.

According to official figures released last week, the Bajur operation has killed nearly 500 people and displaced more than 200,000.

Musharraf's departure as president was hailed by the Pakistani Taliban, who have longed despised the leader who allied the country to the United States in the war on terror.

However, Maulvi Umar, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, said the president's exit — prompted by threats of impeachment from a ruling coalition consisting of his foes — would not satisfy the militants.

Umar said the Taliban wanted an end to military operations against them, an indication the ruling coalition will continue to face attacks.