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KARACHI, Pakistan - Pakistan suspended on Friday, November 23, mobile phone services in major cities to prevent terror attacks from marring Shiite Muslim commemorations, officials said.
Mobile and wireless phone services were temporarily blocked in the commercial capital Karachi, the southwestern city of Quetta and in parts of the capital.
It is the second time Pakistan has shut down mobile networks during the holy month of Muharram, which culminates with Ashura, the holiest day in the Shiite Muslim calendar when faithful march to mourn the seventh-century killing of Imam Hussein.
A suicide bomber killed 23 people and wounded 62 others at a Shiite procession in Rawalpindi on Thursday, the deadliest bombing in Pakistan for five months.
Ashura falls this year on Sunday and has been a magnet for sectarian attacks with rights groups heavily criticising the government for failing to stop extremist violence.
"We have shut our service in Karachi and Quetta on the instructions of the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority from 1:00 pm (4:00 pm Manila time) to midnight," said an official at Mobilink, the country's largest mobile phone service provider.
An official at PTCL, which runs the landline and wireless phone services, said wireless phones had also been turned off at the government's instructions.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik announced the phone suspension earlier, saying it was intended to "ensure security during and after the Muharram processions".
Malik said he had received a request from the government in Punjab province, Pakistan's most populous, to suspend mobile phone communications in 14 cities for two days.
Mobile phone services in various parts of the northwest, south and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir will also be suspended, he added.
The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) said the suspension was likely to continue until Ashura on Sunday.
"The wireless phone service will most likely be suspended for the next two days just the way it was today," Akhlaq Hussain, a director of PTA, told AFP.
In December 2009, a suicide bomber killed 43 people in Karachi at a Shiite procession to mark Ashura.
Pakistan says 35,000 people have been killed as a result of terrorism since the 9/11 attacks and the 2001 US-led invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan. - Agence France-Presse