Dozens killed in Pakistan explosions

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At least 24 people were killed and 66 injured when two bombs ripped through a Pakistani army bus and a commercial district in a city near the capital Islamabad today.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the explosions, which deepened the sense of crisis in Pakistan amid political uncertainty ahead of elections. Officials suggested the bombings were the work of Islamic militants.

The first bomb exploded on the bus early this morning as it travelled through Rawalpindi, a garrison city just south of Islamabad.

Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad said the bus belonged to the Defence Ministry, and police said many of the victims were soldiers.

Television pictures showed how the blast had ripped the roof off the white bus and blown out all the windows.

As ambulances transported victims from the bus blast, a second bomb triggered on a motorcycle went off in one of Rawalpindi's commercial districts, killing several more people, said Zainul Haq, a city police official.

Arshad, speaking on Geo television, said a total of 24 people had died and 66 more were wounded. He said it was unclear if suicide attackers were involved.

Officials said the blasts were still under investigation and that it was too early to say who was responsible.

However, Religious Affairs Minister Ejaz-ul Haq said they could be a reaction to the war in Afghanistan and Pakistani military operations near the Afghan border.

Rawalpindi is the headquarters of the military, led by President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and home to many thousands of troops.

"This is all probably because of the situation presently in Afghanistan and in Waziristan," a militant stronghold in Pakistan's north-west, Haq said on Dawn News televisions. "We are the frontline state in the war against terror, and we are suffering the most."

Pakistan, a key ally of the United States in its war on terror, has witnessed scores of bomb attacks and other acts of terrorism since September 11, 2001. Officials have blamed pro-Taliban and al-Qa'ida elements for most of the attacks.