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Former Pakistani Minister Hurt In Gun Attack


ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -- Gunmen have opened fire at the election office of a former Pakistani government minister, killing four people and wounding two, officials said.

The identity of the gunmen, who opened fire at Sheikh Rashid Ahmed's election office in the city of Rawalpindi, was not known but the violence is likely to raise political tension.

Ahmed was hurt but not by a bullet, an aide, Javed Qureshi, told Reuters. Ahmed had apparently injured a foot when he fell over during the attack, he said.

"Unidentified gunmen opened fire with Kalashnikovs. It was an assassination attempt," Qureshi said.

Two guards and two other people were killed, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told parliament. Two guards were wounded.

Police had earlier said Ahmed had been wounded in the shooting. Television showed pictures of supporters carrying a conscious Ahmed into hospital.

Ahmed had been getting out of his vehicle at his office when the gunmen struck, another aide said.

Ahmed was information and railways minister in the previous government, led by former President Pervez Musharraf. He lost his seat in parliament in a February 2008 general election.

He left the former ruling party and set up his own party after the 2008 election.

Islamist militants have previously attacked politicians in Pakistan. Some violence has also been carried out by rival political factions.

The result of the by-election for a National Assembly seat in Rawalpindi will have no bearing on the ruling coalition's hold on power. The coalition, led by the party of President Asif Ali Zardari, has a comfortable majority in parliament.

Militant Suspects Held In Lahore

Rawalpindi is only a few kilometers south of the capital, Islamabad, and is home to the army's headquarters.

Militant attacks in Rawalpindi over the past year, including one on the army's headquarters and another on a nearby mosque used by officers and their families, have killed dozens of people.

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was killed in a suicide gun and bomb attack after an election rally in a city park in December 2007.

Separately, police in the eastern city of Lahore said they had arrested six suspected Taliban militants, including a would-be suicide bomber, plotting to attack one of the city's top hotels.

"They had plotted to bomb the hotel because they thought that Americans live there," senior police official Zulfiqar Hameed told Reuters.

Police seized vests suicide bombers pack with explosives, as well as grenades and other explosives, he said.

Militant violence and periodic political turmoil have raised fears for nuclear-armed Pakistan's stability and scared off investors.

Pakistani action against militants along its Afghan border is seen as crucial for efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan. The U.S. ally could also play a major role in efforts to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table.

The military has made progress over the past 10 months in offensives against Pakistani Taliban strongholds but the militants have responded with a barrage of bomb attacks in towns and cities.
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