NAWAZ SHARIF, the Pakistan prime minister, has warned he may abandon plans to hold peace talks with the Taliban after Islamist militants claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing of a Peshawar church, where the death toll has increased to 85.
Christian protesters accused the government of failing to protect them after two suicide bombers from the Jundullah group, part of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) alliance, detonated their explosive vests as more than 350 worshippers were leaving All Saints' Church in Peshawar after Sunday Mass.
More than half the victims were women and children in the worst atrocity committed on Pakistan's Christian minority since the country's creation in 1947.
The attack was carried out barely two weeks after Mr Sharif won all-party support to open fresh negotiations with the TTP, an umbrella organisation comprised of 30 militant groups, in an attempt to end the country's Taliban insurgency.
The bombing provoked an outpouring of anger from Christians throughout Pakistan, who claimed Mr Sharif's government and Imran Khan, the former cricketer whose PTI party controls the provincial government, had been "soft" on the Taliban.
Several hundred protesters smashed windows at the Lady Reading Hospital in the city, where many of the 100 injured were treated, and 600 demonstrators blocked a main highway in Islamabad. Protests were also held in Lahore and Karachi.
Mr Sharif was bound yesterday for the US, where he is expected to meet US President Barack Obama and explain his earlier decisions to release the Afghan Taliban's former deputy leader Mullah Baradar and hold talks with Taliban militants.
Speaking during a stop in London, he said following the attack on All Saints, "the government will be unable to proceed as it intended".
Although Jundullah has claimed responsibility for the attack, the TTP umbrella group has denied any involvement, which leading analysts said reflected a rift among the militants. (© Daily Telegraph, London)