At least 23 people were killed and 14 wounded today in a bomb blast at a polling station in an area of northwest Pakistan, police said. The remote-controlled bomb went off at a school in the town of Bunir on the edge of the Swat valley, where voters were casting ballots in a parliamentary by-election, Liaqat Khan, a local police official, said. Eight of the 14 people hurt were taken to hospital in critical condition, another police official, Behramand Khan, said, adding the death toll could rise.
"It was a very powerful blast that completely destroyed the school building and damaged several nearby houses," he said, adding that two policemen were among those killed in the blast. Police found remnants of a car at the scene, suggesting the bomb may have been planted inside, he said, adding that investigations were ongoing. Local residents rushed to the scene to help search for survivors, witnesses said.
"They used shovels and other tools to remove the debris, as people trapped under the rubble called for help," they said. Polling was called off following the explosion. The mountainous Swat valley - once known as the "Switzerland of Pakistan" - was until last year a popular destination for local and foreign tourists that boasted the country's only ski resort. But the region has been turned into a battleground since the radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah, who has links to Pakistan's Taliban movement, launched a violent campaign for the introduction of Sharia law in the valley.
Pakistani troops launched a major offensive in the area last year, but have since scaled back their operations. *AFP