Pakistan's Zardari vows to fight Taliban to the end

ISLAMABAD Fri Jun 12, 2009 5:59pm EDT

1 of 8. Men mourn the death of Muslim cleric Sarfraz Naeemi during a protest in Lahore, hours after he was killed by a suicide bomber at his mosque compound June 12, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Mohsin Raza

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ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said on Saturday the Taliban wanted to take over the country and vowed to fight against militancy "to the end."

Militants have launched a wave of bomb attacks in recent days in response to an army offensive in the Swat region, to the northwest of the capital, Islamabad.

Rising violence has raised fears for Pakistan's stability and for the safety of its nuclear arsenal but the offensive in Swat has reassured the United States about its commitment to the global campaign against militancy.

"We will continue this war to the end," Zardari said in a televised address to the nation broadcast after 1 a.m. (1900 GMT on Friday).

"This war has the support of parliament, the support of the political parties as well as the people of Pakistan," he said.

In the latest bomb attacks, a prominent anti-Taliban cleric who had condemned suicide bombings was killed on Friday in a suicide attack at his office in the city of Lahore. Two other people were killed and 11 wounded.

Also on Friday, four people were killed and more than 20 were wounded when a car bomber attacked a mosque next to an army depot in the northwestern garrison town of Nowshera.

Zardari said the moderate cleric, Sarfraz Naeemi, who was an outspoken critic of suicide attacks, and the other people killed in the bombings were martyrs.

The Taliban claimed to act in the name of Islam but had nothing to do with the religion, he said.

"These people want to capture the institutions of Pakistan by spreading terrorism and by intimidating the people. They have killed thousands of innocent people," said Zardari, the widower of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

The offensive in Swat has broad public support and the bomb attacks appear to be hardening opinion against the militants.

Zardari said the people were behind the armed forces and he announced an increase in pay for soldiers.

Security forces have made progress in more than a month of fighting in Swat and in recent days have been attacking militants in several other parts of the northwest.

Pakistan is a vital ally of the United States as it struggles to stabilize neighboring Afghanistan and defeat al Qaeda.

(Writing by Robert Birsel)

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