A bomb attack has left at least 31 people dead and more than 30 injured as Pakistanis vote Wednesday amid heavy security in a fiercely contested general election.
The explosion took place on the outskirts of Quetta, Balochistan province’s capital. The cause of the blast was unknown, said the city’s superintendent of police Quetta, Naseeb Ullah.
Shopkeeper Akber Khan, who witnessed the attack, said he had already cast his vote at a nearby polling station and returned to his shop. Stepping outside again, he’d “hardly walked a step or two” when the blast occurred.”We got down on the ground. Most people started running. After 10 minutes, when the chaos was over, we started picking up the injured. We carried them into private vehicles as ambulances had not arrived yet.”
ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack. CNN cannot independently verify this assertion.
Meantime in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one person was killed and three injured in a skirmish outside a polling station between supporters of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the province’s Awami National Party.
Khan condemned the Quetta blast, saying in a tweet he was “saddened by the loss of innocent lives,” adding that “enemies of (Pakistan are) seeking to disrupt our democratic process … Pakistanis must defeat the terrorists’ design by coming out in strength to cast their vote.”
The election has pitted cricket star Khan’s party in a tightly fought race against that of jailed former premier Nawaz Sharif.
Shahbaz Sharif, who replaced his brother as their party’s candidate, said in tweet: “Heart broken to learn of martyrdom of innocent people including police officials … My profound condolences to the bereaved families.”
A huge security operation was launched after several attacks in the lead-up to the election. On July 16, 150 people were killed by a suicide bombing in Balochistan that targeted a political candidate and led to suggestions the vote could be delayed in order to get the situation under control.
Police and military personnel were out in force at polling stations across the country, with security officials flying surveillance drones in the troubled northwest city of Peshawar. Long lines of voters queued in the major cities of Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar.
Army officials said more than 370,000 troops had been deployed to ensure a “fair and free” election, with police estimating the total security force at 800,000 personnel.