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Suicide Bomber Kills Eight In Pakistan

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -- A Taliban suicide bomber has killed eight people outside a key Pakistani air-force facility, with officials quick to deny suggestions the target was linked to the country's nuclear program.

In the earlier attack, the suicide bomber detonated explosives strapped to his body at a checkpoint outside the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex in Kamra, some 75 kilometers northwest of the capital, Islamabad.

There were also police and hospital reports of a blast in the northwest city of Peshawar that wounded seven people, but further details were not immediately available.

The attacks come as the army continues a major offensive against Pakistani Taliban militant strongholds in South Waziristan, near the Afghan border.

The offensive has raised fears the insurgents will step up a suicide bombing campaign on urban targets. Over 150 people have been killed in a series of brazen attacks in the past few weeks.

"Eight people were killed and 13 were wounded, three of them seriously," said Shaukat Sultan, head of the main government hospital in Kamra, scene of the October 23 airbase attack.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani told a cabinet meeting on October 21 that the country's nuclear infrastructure was safe and faced no threat from Taliban militants, and an air-force official was quick to dispel suggestions two days later that the Kamra facility was linked to the weapons program.

"It's nonsense. It's rubbish," the air-force official told Reuters.

The October 23 attack came a day after an army brigadier and his driver were killed in a drive-by shooting in Islamabad, while at least six people, including two suicide bombers, died in twin attacks at an Islamic University in the capital on October 20.

More Attacks

Analysts have warned of the possibility of more attacks as the militants come under pressure in South Waziristan, with the Taliban hoping bloodshed and disruption will cause the government and ordinary people to lose their appetite for the offensive.

The offensive is a test of the government's determination to tackle Islamic fundamentalists, and the campaign is being closely followed by the U.S. and other powers embroiled in Afghanistan.

It is also affecting the financial markets, with the benchmark KSE index falling around 6 percent this week.

"There is still concern regarding the security situation," said Asif Qureshi, director at brokers Invisor Securities, who said sentiment would remain tentative until a successful offensive seemed more clear-cut.

Remote and rugged South Waziristan, with its rocky mountains and patchy forests cut through by dry creeks and ravines, is a global hub for militants who flit between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

About 28,000 soldiers are battling an estimated 10,000 hard-core Taliban, including about 1,000 tough Uzbek fighters and some Arab Al-Qaeda members.

The army said 24 militants and two soldiers were killed in the fighting on October 22.

Foreign journalists are not allowed anywhere near the battle zone and it is dangerous even for Pakistani reporters to visit. Independent confirmation of casualty figures has not been possible.

More than 100,000 civilians have fled the area, with about 32,000 leaving since Oct. 13, the United Nations said.

The army has launched brief offensives in South Waziristan before, the first in 2004 when it suffered heavy casualties before striking a peace pact.