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Anger boiling in Pakistan after Taliban shoot girl, 14

Activist in post-op recovery

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PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- Many schools in Pakistan's Swat Valley closed in protest Wednesday and the country's army chief vowed to fight on against militants as anger erupted across the nation over the Taliban attack on a 14-year-old activist famed for promoting education for girls.

Malala Yousufzai was in the intensive care unit at a military hospital in Peshawar, recovering from an early morning surgery to remove a bullet from her neck a day after the attack. A Pakistani official said doctors thought she was out of danger.

The shooting of Malala on her way home from school Tuesday in the town of Mingora in the volatile Swat Valley horrified Pakistanis across the religious, political and ethnic spectrum. A Taliban gunman walked up to a bus taking on schoolchildren and shot her in the head and neck. Another girl on the bus was also wounded.

The country's top military officer, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, issued a strongly worded statement condemning the attack.

"In attacking Malala, the terrorists have failed to grasp that she is not only an individual, but an icon of courage and hope who vindicates the great sacrifices that the people of Swat and the nation gave for wresting the valley from the scourge of terrorism," Kayani said.

He vowed the military would not bow to terrorists such as those who shot the young activist.

"We will fight. Regardless of the cost, we will prevail," he said. He visited the hospital to get a first-hand account of her condition, the statement said.

Malala is admired across Pakistan for exposing the Taliban's atrocities and advocating for education of girls in the face of religious extremism. When she was just 11, she began writing a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC, telling about life under the Taliban, and began speaking publicly in 2009 about the need for girls' education. The Taliban strongly oppose education for women, and the group has claimed responsibility for the Tuesday attack.

Private schools in the Swat Valley were closed Wednesday in a sign of protest over the shooting and in solidarity with Malala, said Ahmed Shah, the chairman of an association of private schools. Flags in front of the Mingora government headquarters were at half-staff, and police officers stood guard outside her family's house.

The front pages of both English- and Urdu-language newspapers were plastered with stories and pictures of Malala. Television channels constantly replayed footage of her being taken to the hospital in Peshawar and clips from previous appearances she made while promoting education for girls.

The news that surgeons were able to remove a bullet lodged in her neck was greeted with relief by many. A team of army and civilian surgeons have been treating her at a military hospital in Peshawar, where she was airlifted after the Tuesday shooting.

The operation to remove the bullet took hours because there were complications, said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the information minister in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

"She is improving. But she is still unconscious," he said.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 11, 2012 A12

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