LAHORE, PAKISTAN - Bomb blasts tore through two of Pakistan's main cities on Monday killing at least 43 people and wounding more than 100 as the nation struggles to quell a worsening Taliban insurgency.
Two blasts devastated a busy market and engulfed it in flames killing at least 33 people in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, while in the northwest provincial capital of Peshawar a suicide bomber killed 10 people.
Attacks blamed on Islamist militants have surged this year as Pakistan presses military offensives against the Taliban across the northwest, under fierce US pressure to do more to destroy the extremists' strongholds.
The popular Moon Market in the centre of eastern Lahore city was transformed into a scene of flames and rubble as night fell Monday, when two bombs exploded 30 seconds apart outside a police station and a bank, officials said.
'We have recovered 33 dead bodies,' said doctor Rizwan Naseer, director general of the city rescue service, putting the injured toll at 95.
Lahore police chief Muhammad Pervez Rathore put the death toll slightly lower as bodies were still being pulled from the rubble.
'Twenty-seven people are confirmed dead but the death toll may rise. A total of 137 people were injured,' he said. 'The blasts knocked out the electricity. Fire engulfed the whole of the market.
'We fear there are still dead bodies inside.'
Cultural hub Lahore is a city of nearly eight million people, and is increasingly in the Taliban's cross-hairs with five previous militant strikes this year killing more than 70 people.
The city of Peshawar in the northwest has borne the brunt of Taliban attacks avenging the operations against them, and was struck again around midday Monday when a suicide bomber in a rickshaw approached a district courthouse.
'He got down and tried to enter the building but could not do so because of our security arrangements,' said Bashir Bilor, a senior provincial minister.
The bomber then detonated about six kilogrammes (13 pounds) of explosives, killing 10 people including a policeman and wounding 44 others, said Zafar Iqbal, a senior doctor at Peshawar's main Lady Reading hospital.
Local television showed images of blackened sandals lying in pools of water on a charred road, as smoke and flames filled the streets.
'I was sitting outside the court when I heard a deafening blast,' lawyer Rashid Hussain told AFP.
'I rushed to the spot and saw dead and injured laying on the ground. It was really horrible, there were body parts and the injured were crying for help.'
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani swiftly condemned both bombings, deploring 'the loss of innocent lives", a statement from his office said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either attack, but a fierce Islamist insurgency has killed more than 2,600 people in attacks mostly blamed on the Taliban in the last two-and-a-half years.
October and early November saw a fierce surge in attacks, including a huge suicide car bombing on October 28 that ripped through a Peshawar market killing 125 people in the worst attack in Pakistan in two years.
There had been a lull in attacks in recent weeks, then on Friday four suicide bombers stormed a mosque in Islamabad's twin city Rawalpindi, killing 36 people in an onslaught of gunfire, grenades and explosions.
Pakistan's military is engaged in offensives against Islamist fighters across much of the northwest including the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, a region branded by Washington as the most dangerous place on Earth.
The tribal belt has been plagued by instability for years, exacerbated in 2001 when a US-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime from Afghanistan, sending hundreds of Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants into the lawless region.
Officials said Pakistani troops killed 10 suspected insurgents in operations in northwest Swat valley and the tribal district of Bajaur on Monday, as the military pressed on with its attempts to dismantle Taliban strongholds.
Washington and London are however pressuring Pakistan to do more to capture Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and prevent militants crossing the border and targeting foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan.