Pakistani rescue workers remove a body from
the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) [AFP]

Cricket Australia has postponed its cricket tour to Pakistan after two bombs killed at least 20 people and injured scores more in the eastern city of Lahore.

The tour, which had been scheduled to start March 29, had been in jeopardy due to security concerns expressed by Australian players and officials after a wave of violence began around the February 18 elections in Pakistan.

"We are very sorry that the tour could not take place at this time,'' Cricket Australia chairman Creagh O'Connor said, ending weeks of speculation.

"This was a difficult decision based on independent review of the circumstances prevailing in Pakistan at the moment.

"We wish no loss to Pakistan Cricket Board and look forward to undertaking this tour in the near future.''

Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Dr. Nasim Ashraf said his board was very disappointed at this decision.

"I guess there is not much we could do and sincerely hope that the tour of Australia to Pakistan can materialize at the earliest opportunity,'' he was quoted saying.

Ongoing concern

Senior Australian players had expressed concerns for several months over the tour.

Cricket Australia officials had consulted Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and trade for independent security advice before reaching its decision.

The proposed tour had already been compressed to a month and the PCB had previously vetoed a proposal to move matches to a neutral venue.

The Australian government foreign minister Stephen Smith backed Cricket Australia's decision to postpone the tour.

"The Australian government absolutely supports the decision that Cricket Australia has made,'' Smith said.

I think the Australians should have come here full steam ahead

"Regrettably, the security situation in Pakistan is not good,'' he said.

"Obviously that was, as I put it, utmost in the mind of Cricket Australia when they came to decide about the welfare and security of players and any members of a potential touring party.''

Pakistan coach Geoff Lawson, a former Australia test bowler, believed the tour should have gone ahead.

"I think the Australians should have come here full steam ahead,'' Lawson said.

"Bombs do go off, you can't argue with that. But they're focused on particular targets that have nothing to do with sport, and particularly nothing to do with cricket.

"I have never felt any personal issue with my safety and the same would apply to the Australian team,'' he said.

Matches on Australia's 2002 tour were shifted to Colombo, Sri Lanka and Sharjah, United Arab Emirates but the PCB opposed a similar move this series, citing its long-term impact on cricket in Pakistan.

The PCB offered extra security for Australian players but that failed to immediately sway Australia, which has now not toured Pakistan since 1998.

The decision paves the way for all Australian players involved in next month's lucrative Indian Premier League to take part in the new Twenty20 competition.

James Sutherland:  Hopes Australia will tour
Pakistan "in the near future" [AFP]
 
Bangladesh invitation

The PCB has invited Bangladesh to play a home limited-overs series next month to fill the gap left by the postponement.

Australia could face a fine of up to $2 million under existing International Cricket Council protocols if the sport's governing body finds its decision not to tour is unjustified.

However, any sanctions look unlikely with Australia's security concerns appearing valid.

In the latest attacks, the federal police headquarters was devastated reportedly by a bomb planted near an elevator and two children died in a second bombing at a house in an upscale residential area.

The cause of the bombing is yet to be finalised, and as yet no group has claimed responsibility.

Last week, a double suicide attack in Lahore killed four people at a navy training college.

On January 10, a man walked into a crowd of police guarding a courthouse and blew himself up, killing 24.

Tuesday's attack was the first act of violence since moderate parties announced Sunday that they would form a coalition government after routing the allies of President Pervez Musharraf in an election last month.

Source: Agencies