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Last updateTue, 17 Mar 2015 2pm

Sharif says "Difficult to Talk Peace" with Taliban as Peshawar Church death toll hits 81

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif says it will be "difficult to move forward" on peace talks with the Taliban as the death toll from twin suicide bombings at a church in Peshawar topped 81.

"Such incidents do not augur well for negotiations,” he told reporters in London on his way to New York, where he is scheduled to attend the 68th session of the UN General Assembly.

“We had proposed peace talks with the Taliban in good faith, and with the consent of all political parties… but unfortunately, because of this (attack) the government is unable to move forward on what it had envisaged, on what it had wished for,” Mr Sharif added.

He said that the killing of innocent Christians had plunged the whole nation into grief, adding that the perpetrators had violated the teachings of Islam.

"It’s a national tragedy.  No sane person can condone such barbarism. Everyone, no matter what his religion or creed is, will feel sad over this. This is the work of the enemies of Pakistan.

"These terrorists have no religion… targeting innocent people is against the teachings of Islam and all religions.”

A wing of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for Sunday's bombing at Peshawar's historic All Saints Church, which wounded a further 141 people.

The bombers struck as as worshippers were leaving after services to get a free meal of rice offered on the front lawn.
Survivors wailed and hugged one another in the wake of the blasts. The white walls of the church, which first opened in the late 1800s, were pockmarked with holes caused by ball bearings contained in the bombs to cause maximum damage. Blood stained the floor and the walls. Plates filled with rice were scattered on the ground.

The 78 dead included 34 women and seven children, said Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.  Another 37 children were among the wounded, he added.

The number of casualties from the blasts was so high that the hospital ran short of caskets for the dead and beds for the wounded, said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, a former information minister of surrounding Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province who was on the scene.

"This is the deadliest attack against Christians in our country," said Irfan Jamil, the bishop of the eastern city of Lahore.
Pope Francis led several thousand people in a prayer for the victims while on a visit to Sardinia.  Those who carried out the attack, he said, "took the wrong choice, one of hatred and war."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the "atrocious" attack in the strongest possible terms and expressed deep concern at "the repeated attacks of blind violence against religious and ethnic minorities in Pakistan," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

Ban said "these acts of terror cannot be justified by any cause," reiterated the U.N.'s solidarity with the government's ongoing struggle against terrorism and extremism, and urged the government to continue effort to build tolerance and strengthen relations between diverse religious and ethnic communities, Nesirky said.

Ahmad Marwat, who identified himself as the spokesman for the Jundullah wing of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack.

"All non-Muslims in Pakistan are our target, and they will remain our target as long as America fails to stop drone strikes in our country," Marwat told The Associated Press by telephone from an undisclosed location.

Jundullah has previously claimed responsibility for attacks on minority Shiite Muslims in southwestern Baluchistan province. Hard-line Sunni extremists like the Taliban consider Shiites to be heretics.

The U.S. has repeatedly demanded that Pakistan take stronger action against Islamic militants, especially members of the Afghan Taliban who use the country as a base for cross-border attacks on American troops in Afghanistan.

The U.S. has carried out several hundred drone attacks against Taliban militants and their allies in Pakistan's tribal region.

The strike on Sunday took place in the Shawal area of North Waziristan, the main sanctuary for militants in the country, said Pakistani intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Pakistani officials regularly decry drone attacks as a violation of the country's sovereignty, but the government is known to have secretly supported some of the strikes in the past, especially ones that have targeted Pakistani Taliban militants at war with the state.

The Pakistani and Afghan Taliban are allies, but have focused their fight on opposite sides of the border.

- Agencies (Edited by Viji Alles)

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