Alexa

Taliban patrol northwestern Pakistan town

 Pakistani shopkeepers collect useful stuff from the rubble of the demolished shops at the site of suicide bombing on the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakis...
 Pakistani police officers collect evidence from the site of suicide bombing on the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakistan Tuesday, May 5, 2009. A suicide ca...
 A Pakistani paramilitary soldier with a rocket launcher stands guard as local residents gather at close to the site of suicide bombing on the outskir...
 Pakistani police officers examine a damaged car at the site of suicide bombing on outskirt of Peshawar, Pakistan on May 5, 2009. A suicide car bomber...

Pakistan

Pakistani shopkeepers collect useful stuff from the rubble of the demolished shops at the site of suicide bombing on the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakis...

Pakistan

Pakistani police officers collect evidence from the site of suicide bombing on the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakistan Tuesday, May 5, 2009. A suicide ca...

Pakistan

A Pakistani paramilitary soldier with a rocket launcher stands guard as local residents gather at close to the site of suicide bombing on the outskir...

Pakistan

Pakistani police officers examine a damaged car at the site of suicide bombing on outskirt of Peshawar, Pakistan on May 5, 2009. A suicide car bomber...

Taliban militants patrolled the streets of a northwestern town Tuesday and residents were urged to flee as a peace deal widely criticized as a surrender to the extremists appeared on the verge of collapse, witnesses and officials said.
The deteriorating situation in the Swat Valley came as Pakistan's leader prepared for talks in Washington with President Barack Obama on how to sharpen his country's fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban, which are blamed for attacks in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
U.S. officials said Obama would seek assurances from President Asif Ali Zardari that his country's nuclear arsenal was safe and that the military intended to face down extremists in coordination with Afghanistan and the United States.
Although the administration thinks Pakistan's nuclear weapons are secure for now, concern that militants might try to seize one or several of them is acute. The anxieties have heightened amid the Taliban's recent advances and American worry about the commitment from Pakistan's government and military in battling the extremists, the officials said.
Pakistan agreed to a truce in the Swat Valley and surrounding districts in February after two years of bloody fighting with militants in the former tourist resort. It formally introduced Islamic law last month in the hope that insurgents would lay down their arms, something they have not done.
Last week, the insurgents moved from the valley into Buner, a district just 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the capital, triggering alarm at home and abroad. The army responded with an offensive that it says has killed more than 100 militants, but has yet to evict them.
On Tuesday, Khushal Khan, the top administrator in Swat said Taliban militants were roaming the area and laying mines, but would not say whether an army offensive _ which would spell the end of the peace pact _ was imminent. The military has said it will wait for a decision by the central government before launching any actions.
A witness in the main town of Mingora said black-turbaned militants were deployed on most streets and on high buildings, and security forces were barricaded in their bases. He asked for anonymity out of fear for his life.
Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan said the militants were in control of "90 percent" of the valley and said their actions were in response to army violations of the peace deal such as attacking insurgents and boosting troop numbers in the region. He accused the government of acting under pressure from the U.S.
"Everything will be OK once our rulers stop bowing before America," he told The Associated Press by cell phone.
Khushal Khan said authorities were lifting a curfew so that people could leave Mingora, and a camp had been set up for the displaced in the nearby town of Dargai.
"We are leaving the area to save our lives," said Sayed Iqbal, a 35-year-old cloth merchant who was putting household goods in a pickup truck already loaded with his elderly parents, wife and two children. "The government has announced people should leave the area. What is there left to say?"
Washington, which says eliminating militant havens in Pakistan is vital to winning the war in neighboring Afghanistan, has criticized the deal and called for tougher action.
While an army offensive would be welcomed abroad, it was far from certain the government would be able to dislodge the militants, who have had three months to rest and reinforce their positions.
Pakistan has waged several offensives in the border region in recent years that have often ended inconclusively amid public anger at civilian casualties. The country's army, trained to fight conventional battles against rival India, is not used to guerrilla warfare.
Pakistan is struggling to thwart an increasingly overlapping spectrum of extremist groups, some of whom have enjoyed official support. Few extremist leaders are ever brought to justice.
Also Tuesday, the High Court in the southern city of Karachi upheld an appeal by two men sentenced to death for the 2002 slayings of 11 French nationals and four other people in a bombing outside the city's Sheraton Hotel.
The judges said they suspected that the confession of one of the men, Asif Zaheer, was "not voluntary" and that prosecution witnesses had been "set up" by authorities, said state prosecutor Saifullah, who goes by only one name.
Authorities were considering appealing the acquittal, Saifullah said.
Earlier Tuesday, a suicide bomber rammed a vehicle carrying troops near Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province, killing one paramilitary soldier and four civilians, police official Ghafoor Khan Afridi said. Another 21 people, including 10 troops and police and two children, were injured, Afridi said.
Pakistani militants have threatened a campaign of suicide blasts in retaliation for U.S. missile strikes on al-Qaida and Taliban strongholds into Pakistan's northwest and for a string of military operations by government forces.
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Associated Press writer Riaz Khan in Peshawar and Ashraf Khan in Karachi contributed to this report.