At least 88 people are dead in suicide bombing during volleyball game in tribal area.
|The boxing tournament takes place a day after a suicide bomb at a village volleyball match [AFP]|
Pakistan ensured heavy security for a boxing tournament, the country’s first international sporting event since militants attacked the Sri Lanka cricket team’s bus last March.
Spectators were barred from the Benazir Bhutto international boxing tournament and some 3,000 police and paramilitary personnel guarded the venue in the congested Kharadar area of Karachi.
The tournament, featuring teams including India and China, is taking place only a day after a suicide car bomber attacked a site where a volleyball game was being played in the northwest of the country, killing at least 88 people and wounding scores more.
“We are taking extra precautions because this is our first international sporting event for a long time,” said Akram Khan, the secretary of the Pakistan Amateur Boxing Federation.
“We have not allowed entry of the general public into the sports complex but we have set up a giant screen for them outside the venue in a football ground so they can enjoy the boxing bouts.”
Boxers from 18 countries, including India and China, were taking part in the tournament at the sports complex named after Bhutto, the assassinated former Pakistan Prime Minister.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani had been due to open the event but federal sports minister Mir Ejaz Hussain Jakhrani took his place and said the premier had been kept away by a busy schedule.
Police and paramilitary troops were positioned on the roofs of nearby houses and on the roads leading to the venue which were barred to public transport.
A large crowd of people watching the screen cheered loudly as Indian Sanjay Singh fought his bout against an Uzbekistan boxer.
As well as the arrival of India and China, the tournament also includes teams from Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Cameroon, Yemen, Afghanistan, Central Africa, Hungary, Iraq, Singapore, Myanmar, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Chinese Taipei and Syria.
Friday’s incident took place in Lakki Marwat in the North West Frontier Province, which lies close to North and South Waziristan, two tribal regions where Pakistani Taliban fighters are active.
The bomber apparently drove his vehicle onto a field where a volleyball tournament was under way.
|In depth: Sport under fire|
“There was a match between two village teams and a lot of people were watching it,” Habibullah Khan, the police chief of Bannu district, said.
The minister of sports for the Sindh province, Dr Muhammad Ali Shah, said state level security was being provided for the participating teams at the tournament.
“We are taking no chances at all. Although it is an indoor event this is a big test for us and we want to ensure it goes off smoothly,” Shah told news agency Reuters.
India have sent three boxers to the tournament – the first time a team from Pakistan’s rivals and neighbours have visited the country since the November 2008 Mumbai attacks damaged relations between the two nations.
Since the attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team, foreign sportsmen have refused to travel to Pakistan.
Several sporting events have been cancelled due to the security situation with the International Cricket Council moving matches at the 2011 World Cup away from Pakistan in April.
Friday’s suicide bomb attack was one of the bloodiest attacks in Pakistan since the October 2007 attack on Bhutto on her return home from self-imposed exile that killed at least 139 people.
An attack on a sporting event is highly unusual but could be part of the militants’ strategy of bombing crowded areas such as markets to inflict mass killings and spread fear and chaos.
Imran Khan, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in the capital Islamabad, said: “Lakki Marwat is a place that has seen fighting against Taliban and al-Qaeda elements.
“The people of that area formed tribal militias to fight foreign fighters and the Taliban to push them out. So this was probably a retaliatory attack.”
Akram Khan, hoped India’s participation in the Benazir Bhutto international tournament could eventually pave the way for the restoration of international events in Pakistan in 2010.
“Having the Indian team is a big positive for us,” he said.