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Pakistan Lifts Moratorium On Death Penalty After School Massacre

A Pakistani soldier shows the media a burnt classroom at an army-run school a day after an attack by Taliban militants in Peshawar on December 16.
A Pakistani soldier shows the media a burnt classroom at an army-run school a day after an attack by Taliban militants in Peshawar on December 16.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has lifted a moratorium on the death penalty in terrorism-related cases a day after Taliban gunmen killed 132 schoolchildren and nine staff in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

Sharif approved the removal of the moratorium on December 17 as Pakistan began three days of national mourning for the victims of the school massacre and devastated families buried their children.

Sharif told a gathering in Peshawar of all parliamentary parties that Pakistan "will fight the war against terrorism keeping in mind the faces of the innocent children" who were killed at their school.

Sharif called the meeting in a bid to bring the country's politicians together in a unified effort against militant violence.

Earlier, Sharif pledged to avenge what he called a "national tragedy unleashed by savages."

Pakistan imposed a moratorium on implementing the death penalty in 2008, but judges have continued to issue death sentences in some criminal and terrorism cases.

Rather than being executed, those sentenced to death have remained imprisoned on death row for the duration of the moratorium.

International and Pakistani rights groups say about 800 of some 8,000 prisoners currently on death row in Pakistan were convicted on terrorism charges.

The December 16 attack on the army-run school in Peshawar was one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Pakistan’s history.

The school teaches boys and girls from both military and civilian families.

Pakistan’s army said the attack was carried out by seven gunmen, all wearing bomb vests, who systematically went from room to room shooting pupils and teachers.

A total of 125 people were wounded before the attackers were killed.

A Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman who called himself Muhammad Khorasani phoned an RFE/RL Radio Mashaal correspondent and claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was retaliation for Pakistani military operations in nearby tribal areas.

In and around Peshawar, mourners gathered around coffins for funerals of the victims on December 17 after people across the country staged candlelight vigils overnight.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Army Chief Raheel Sharif was visiting neighboring Afghanistan to discuss how to better coordinate their efforts in the battle against militants who hide along their common border.

Pakistani Army spokesman Asim Bajwa says the military carried out more than 10 air strikes against militants in the nearby Khyber tribal region.

In Britain, Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai — an education campaigner who survived an assassination attempt by a Taliban gunman in her native Swat Valley — said the December 16 massacre demonstrates it is time for unity between the international community, Pakistani political leaders, "all political parties and everyone" in the fight against terrorism.

Malala said: "We should make sure that every child gets safe and quality education."

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, "Dawn," "Hurriyet" and Radio Pakistan