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Suicide bomb blast targets Shiites

A suicide attacker on a motorcycle has blown himself up in a market in a Pakistani town close to the Afghan border killing 23 Shiite Muslims and wounding 50 other people.

Violence by Sunni extremists against Shiites is common in Pakistan, which is dominated by Sunnis but has a sizeable Shiite minority.

Sunni extremist groups such as al Qaida and the Taliban often believe Shiites are infidels and that it is permissible or even praiseworthy to kill them.

The bomber struck in the north-western town of Parachinar. Many of the 23 dead were shoppers or people with stalls in the market, said a local official.

After the attack, security forces fired on crowds protesting at the attack, killing three people, he said.

A local Taliban commander, Fazal Saeed Haqqani, claimed responsibility for the attack. He justified it by saying that Shiites had been attacking Sunnis.

Parachinar and the nearby region of Kurram have been plagued by sectarian violence for several years. Shiites have been the overwhelming victims.

The deadly attack came after Afghan president Hami Karzai said "impediments" in ties between Kabul and Islamabad must soon be removed so that progress can be made in peace talks to end the war in Afghanistan. He said the countries need to resolve these problems "sooner rather than later."

Karzai was speaking in Islamabad after talks with Pakistan's civilian and military leaders aimed at trying to secure their co-operation in bringing Afghan Taliban leaders - who are believed to be in Pakistan - to the negotiating table.

The US is backing talks with the Taliban, but mistrust on all sides is hampering the process.

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