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Gunmen kill 18 at roadside restaurant in Pakistan; US drone strike kills 12 in northwest

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QUETTA, Pakistan - Gunmen on motorcycles opened fire at a roadside restaurant in southwestern Pakistan on Friday, killing 18 people, officials said. In the northwest, a U.S. drone strike killed 12 suspected militants near the Afghan border.

The people killed in the restaurant attack in the remote town of Turbat in Baluchistan province were Pakistanis travelling with smugglers to Europe through neighbouring Iran, said Abdul Razzaq, a government official in the area. Two people were also wounded, he said.

It's unclear what motivated the attack. Baluchistan regularly experiences violence from both Islamist militants and nationalists who demand a greater share of the province's natural resources.

Earlier, U.S. drones fired a total of five missiles at a compound in Miran Shah, the main town in the North Waziristan tribal area, according to Pakistani intelligence officials speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media. In addition to the militants killed, six others were wounded, some of them critically, they said.

Those hit were believed to loyal to Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a militant commander whose forces frequently target U.S. and other NATO troops in neighbouring Afghanistan, the officials said. A similar drone attack Sunday killed eight of Bahadur's fighters.

U.S. officials rarely speak publicly about the covert CIA drone program in Pakistan.

The strikes are extremely unpopular in Pakistan because many believe they mostly kill civilians, a claim disputed by the U.S. Pakistani officials regularly denounce the attacks of violations of the country's sovereignty, but the government has co-operated with at least some of the strikes in the past.

That co-operation has come under strain as the relationship between the two countries has deteriorated. Pakistan's parliament has demanded the U.S. end the strikes, but Washington has made clear that isn't going to happen.

The drones were a complication in U.S. efforts to get Pakistan to end its seven-month blockade of NATO troop supplies that run through the country to Afghanistan. Pakistan closed the route in retaliation for American airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani troops in November. Islamabad reopened the supply line this week after the Obama administration said it was sorry for the deaths.

Friday's drone strikes were the first since the route reopened.

___

Ahmed reported from Islamabad.

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