Islamabad, Jul 25 (AP/UNB) — A Pakistan hospital official says an explosion outside crowded polling station in southwestern city of Quetta has killed 25 people and wounded 40. Jaffer Kakar, a doctor, says five policemen and two children are among the dead. He fears the death toll could rise as many of the wounded are in critical condition.
Wednesday's attack comes as Pakistanis vote in general elections for 270 members of the law-making National Assembly, or lower house of parliament, and 577 seats in four provincial assemblies.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the explosion.
Abdur Razzaq Cheema, the police chief in Quetta, Baluchistan's provincial capital, says the explosion took place when near the city's eastern bypass.
Baluchistan also saw the deadliest suicide bombing in the run-up to election day, with 149 people, including a provincial assembly candidate, killed at a campaign this month.
Pakistani police say a shooting between supporters of two opposing political parties has left one person dead and wounded two people in a village near the northwestern city of Sawabi.
It is the first violence on election day in Pakistan. Ahead of Wednesday's balloting, over 170 people — including three candidates running in the elections — were killed in suicide bombings in southwestern Baluchistan and northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.
Police officer Khalid Hamdani says it's unclear what triggered the shootout between a group of supporters of the secular Awami National Party, which has often bbeen targeted by the Taliban, and the Tehrik-e-Insaf led by former cricket star Imran Khan, a center-right party.
Hamdani says the situation is now under control and voting is underway in Col Sher Khan village.
A hard-line Pakistani cleric who heads an alliance of religious parties and the country's parliament speaker have cast their ballots in the general elections underway in Pakistan.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman voted in the northwestern city of Dera Ismail Khan soon after polls opened on Wednesday.
His Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal is a potential threat to opposition leader, former cricket star Imran Khan's party in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Khan's party has ruled the province for the last five years.
Rehman appealed to citizens after casting his ballot to cast their votes with the full sense of responsibility so capable hands could take over the country.
Ayaz Sadiq, speaker of the National Assembly, voted in the eastern city of Lahore.
Pakistan Muslim League chief Shahbaz Sharif cast his vote in the eastern city of Lahore soon after polls opened in national elections.
Sharif, the younger brother of disgraced ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif, took over the ruling Pakistan Muslim League last year after his brother was found guilty of corruption. The ex-prime minister has since been sentenced to 10 years in jail, which he is serving while appealing the conviction.
The younger Sharif stood in line waiting his turn to enter the polling booth. In Pakistan, a candidate can run for elections in multiple seats. If the candidate wins more than one seat, a by-election will be held as a person can represent only one constituency.
Sharif marked his ballot for both the National and Punjab provincial Parliaments and is contesting elections in four National Assembly seats and in two Punjab provincial legislature seats.
Pakistanis began voting in a historic third straight election ending a campaign marred by widespread allegations of manipulation that local and international rights group say imperils the country's wobbly transition to democratic rule.
There are 85,307 polling stations across Pakistan and more than 11,000 candidates are vying for 270 seats in parliament and 570 seats in four provincial assemblies. Voting for two parliament seats and six seats in provincial assemblies has been postponed for a later date, due to attacks on candidates or disqualifications. One candidate in the Sindh provincial assembly was unopposed and has already secured that seat.
Under Pakistani law, separate seats are reserved for women and for non-Muslim minorities, who comprise 4 percent of the population.
Damascus, Jul 25 (AP/UNB) — A series of suicide bombings and attacks in southern Syria, including a suicide bomber who struck at a busy vegetable market, killed 38 people on Wednesday, state media reported, blaming Islamic State militants for the carnage.
The attacks, the worst in recent months, were reminiscent of the horrific violence by the Islamic State group that spread mayhem across the country, already ravaged by the civil war.
Al-Ikhbariya state-run TV showed images from several locations in Sweida province where the bombers blew themselves up.
The breakdown of the fatalities from the attack on the vegetable market and also from other suicide bombings in the provincial capital, also called Sweida, was not immediately known.
The rare attacks in Sweida and its capital, a predominantly Druze city, came amid a government offensive in the country's south. Government forces are battling an affiliate of the Islamic State group near the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights area and the border with Jordan.
The Islamic State group has been largely defeated in Syria and Iraq, but still has pockets of territory it controls in eastern Syria and in the country's south.
Since its offensive in June, Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces have retaken territories controlled by the rebels along the Golan Heights frontier and are now fighting militants in the country's southern tip.
The death, initially reported at 27, quickly climbed.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported a series of suicide blasts and other attacks in the southern province.
The Observatory said the clashes in the Sweida countryside and the bombings in the provincial capital killed 56 people, including 28 pro-government fighters, four attackers and 12 militants. The discrepancy in death tolls is common in the early hours of such large attacks.
Al-Ikhbariya said one of the attackers hit at a vegetable market in the city just after 5 a.m., a busy time for the merchants at the start of their day.
The bomber drove through the market on a motorcycle and blew himself up, the TV station said. The second attacker hit in another busy square in the city. Two other attackers blew themselves up when they were chased by authorities.
The city of Sweida has largely been spared most of the violence that Syrian cities have witnessed in the years since the conflict started in 2011.
For the southern offensive, government forces redeployed troops from Sweida province last month to attack rebels and IS-affiliate militants in the nearby provinces of Daraa and Quneitra.
The government is now in control of Daraa, but continues to battle the IS-affiliate militants in Quneitra.
Tehran, Jul 25 (AP/UNB) — Iran's state news agency says President Hassan Rouhani has replaced the governor of the central bank as the country's currency hovers around record lows.
Wednesday's IRNA report says that Abdolnasser Hemmati was appointed CBI governor to replace Valiollah Seif, who had been head since 2013.
The 61-year-old Hemmati led Iran's state central insurance company and has worked in banking.
The Iranian rial has been declining steadily for years but the drop accelerated in recent months after the American decision to pull out of the nuclear deal with Iran in May and announcement of increased sanctions.
Critics have also blamed the fall of the rial on Seif's policies.
A U.S. dollar currently buys for 43,776 rials, compared to 35,186 in January and more than double that on the thriving black market.
Madrid, Jul 25 (AP/UNB) — Cabin crew workers for low-cost airline Ryanair are holding a two-day strike in four European countries over working conditions, forcing thousands of passengers to make last-minute travel plans at the peak of the summer holiday season.
Unions in Portugal, Spain, Belgium and Italy say employees are hired by Ryanair or its subsidiaries under contracts governed by countries where they are not based, reducing their leave allowances, causing wage disparities, and impeding the workers' access to state benefits.
The Dublin-based airline has published on its website salary slips for June, arguing that pilots and cabin crew are fairly paid.
The company says that all 50,000 customers affected by the cancellation of 600 flights on Wednesday and Thursday were given alternative flights or offered full refunds in past days.
Tokyo, Jul 25 (AP/UNB) — Japanese navy sailors on a speedboat raced to a simulated suspicious boat while aircraft watched from the sky in a multinational exercise Wednesday off Tokyo's southern coast to practice intercepting weapons of mass destruction at sea.
Destroyers and surveillance aircraft, as well as coast guard ships from Japan, the U.S., South Korea and Australia, participated in the exercise, part of the Proliferation Security Initiative.
Journalists observed from the Japanese destroyer Murasame.
Wednesday's "Pacific Shield 18" exercise off the coast of the Boso Peninsula, southeast of Tokyo, simulated the halting of ships suspected of carrying materials related to weapons of mass destruction to conduct inventory checks.
Personnel from several countries took turns approaching the target ship and communicating with its crew.
Thirty countries participated in the exercise, along with 20 observers and four non-members, mainly from the Indo-Pacific region and Europe.
The initiative started in 2003 as part of Washington's efforts to block shipments of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and the materials and equipment needed to make them, as well as missiles that can be used to deliver them.
Japan has actively monitored offshore ship-to-ship transfers of oil allegedly involving North Korean ships, a potential violation of U.N. sanctions imposed over the North's nuclear and missile programs.
The initiative does not target any specific country, but North Korea has criticized it, calling it a provocation.