Pakistan steps up security for tournament after attack

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KARACHI (Reuters) - Organizers of an international boxing tournament in Pakistan, featuring teams including India and China, have stepped up security after a suicide bomb attack at a volleyball match in the country's northwest on Friday.

Local police chief Ayub Khan told Reuters by telephone that 75 people were killed and 42 wounded when a suicide bomber in a vehicle blew himself up at the game being played in a local village opposed to al Qaeda-linked Taliban insurgents.

The boxing tournament, to be opened by prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani on Saturday, is the first international sporting event to be held in Pakistan since militants attacked the Sri Lanka cricket team bus in Lahore in March last year.

The minister of sports for the Sindh province, Dr Muhammad Ali Shah, said state level security was being provided for the participating teams at the tournament, which is named after assassinated former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

"We are taking no chances at all. Although it is an indoor event this is a big test for us and we want to ensure it goes off smoothly," Shah told Reuters.

India has sent three boxers to the tournament -- the first time a team from Pakistan's rivals and neighbors have visited the country since the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks damaged relations between the two nuclear-armed nations.


Since the attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team, foreign sportsmen have refused to travel to Pakistan.

Several sporting events have been canceled due to the security situation with the International Cricket Council moving matches at the 2011 World Cup away from Pakistan in April.

Friday's suicide bomb attack took place as young men played volleyball in front of a crowd of spectators, including elderly residents and children, near the town of Lakki Marwat.

It was one of the bloodiest attacks in Pakistan since the October 2007 attack on Bhutto on her return home from self-imposed exile that killed at least 139 people.

An attack on a sporting event is highly unusual but could be part of the militants' strategy of bombing crowded areas such as markets to inflict mass killings and spread fear and chaos.

Akram Khan, secretary of the Pakistan Boxing Federation, still hoped India's participation in the Benazir Bhutto international tournament could eventually pave the way for the restoration of international events in Pakistan in 2010.

"We've managed to attract teams from nearly 15 countries and we've even set up special training facilities for them at their hotel as part of the security arrangements for them," he said.

"Having the Indian team is a big positive for us."

As well as the arrival of India and China, the tournament also includes teams from Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Cameroon, Yemen, Afghanistan, Central Africa, Hungary, Iraq, Singapore, Myanmar, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Chinese Taipei and Syria.

(Editing by Ken Ferris)