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Pakistan Vows To Back Separatists

August 14, 1998

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif marked Pakistan’s 51 years of independence Friday with a pledge of continued support for separatists fighting India in the disputed region of Kashmir.

Independence celebrations in the country’s economic hub of Karachi, meanwhile, were marred by violence. Unidentified gunmen attacked a school in the southern port city, wounding seven students.

No group claimed responsibility for the shooting. Police called it a terrorist attack aimed at wrecking independence day celebrations.

More than 500 people have been killed this year in political, ethnic and sectarian violence in Karachi.

Speaking in the capital, Sharif said in his nationwide address that violence in Kashmir would ``force India to come to the negotiation table.″

Pakistan and India have fought two wars over Kashmir since both gained independence from Britain in 1947. India celebrates its independence day Saturday.

Both countries claim the predominantly Muslim region. Hindu-dominated India controls two-thirds of Kashmir, while Muslim Pakistan controls the rest.

India accuses Pakistan of arming Muslim guerrillas fighting for independence or unification with Pakistan, while Pakistan accuses India of violating human rights in its crackdown on the militants.

Pakistan says it offers only political and moral support to the separatists, and Sharif said that support would continue as long as ``Kashmiris are victim of Indian atrocities.″

India and Pakistan regulary exchange gunfire across the border in Kashmir. But the exchanges have become more heated in the past month. Fourteen people, including a civilian, died in clashes Thursday in India.

Sharif on Friday also defended his decision to answer Indian nuclear weapons tests in May with his own tests.

Winners of this year’s national award for excellence, announced every year on independence day, included the architect of Pakistan’s nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan.

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