Dozens killed in Pakistan bomb blasts on final day of election campaigning

UPI
A doctor at at hospital in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's Balochistan province, treats a man, one of dozens injured and killed Wednesday in two bomb blasts targeting the offices of local candidates in provincial and national elections due to be held Thursday. Photo by Jamal Taraqai/EPA-EFE
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Feb. 7 (UPI) -- At least 22 people were killed Wednesday in two separate bomb attacks in southwestern Pakistan, hours before polling stations open for voting in provincial and national elections Thursday.

The first blast in Pishin district, 35 miles north of the Balochistan provincial capital, Quetta, killed at least 12 people and injured 25 after an improvised explosive device aboard a motorcycle was detonated near the office of an independent election candidate, said Balochistan caretaker information minister Jan Achakzai.

A few hours later, a second blast in front of the office of a candidate of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, one of the main religious parties, Thursday's elections killed at least 10 people 90 miles to the west in Qila Saifullah, Achakzai said.

Victims injured in the blast were being evacuated by helicopter to hospitals in Quetta.

Achakzai said the "terrorists wanted to disturb election activities," but pledged his government would make sure law and order prevailed on polling day.

Interior Minister Gohar Ejaz warned those responsible that they would face harsh consequences.

"The miscreants want to defame Pakistan by creating unrest during the elections. Those who play with the lives of innocent citizens will be dealt with with iron hands," he wrote in a post on X.

No one has claimed responsibility for either attack which occurred despite stepped-up security across the country amid election violence, allegations of ballot fraud and a crackdown on the populist Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party of imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Khan is serving multiple jail sentences, among them 10, 14 and 7-year terms handed down on successive days last week, while the 257 candidates for the party he founded have effectively been forced to run as independents after the electoral commission banned the PTI from using its trademark cricket bat logo on ballot papers.

With only 50% literacy, tens of millions of voters rely on familiar party logos on ballots to be able to vote for their chosen candidate. Campaigning by the PTI has been heavily restricted, including a television ban and social media blackouts.

The PTI claims many of its candidates were detained or arrested after registering their candidacies. More than 7,000 supporters were arrested for participating in a demonstration in May against Khan's detention.

More than 120 million people are eligible to vote for candidates contesting 266 of the 342 seats in the National Assembly with 134 seats needed to form a government, which then elects a prime minister.