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Friday, 2 November, 2001, 15:29 GMT
Anthrax cases hit Pakistan
Journalists look inside the sealed-off newsroom of the Daily Jang
Offices at the Jang newspaper have been sealed off
Pakistani officials say anthrax-infected letters have been identified in the country - apparently the first ones sent to Asia.

A letter sent last week to a mass circulation newspaper has tested positive for the deadly spores, its editor has said.

Staff at the Daily Jang offices in Karachi have been put on antibiotics and the offices are being disinfected.


Anthrax gift for you and your staff

Letter to paper

A government spokesman said anthrax spores had also been sent to a computer company in Karachi.

Pakistan's Minister for Science, Atta-ur-Rehman, told the BBC that no one had been infected by any of the attacks, and all those exposed have been given medication.

Action

The Pakistani Government acted quickly to calm public fears, saying it had set up a special cell in the Interior Ministry to deal with any potential threat.

It said it had enough antibiotics to cope with an outbreak.

Mr Atta-ur-Rehman said people had as much chance of contracting anthrax as being run over by a car or struck by lightning.

He added that Pakistan did not have the facilities to produce the type of anthrax found in the letter.

The Daily Jang, Pakistan's largest Urdu-language newspaper, received the letter containing white powder on 23 October.

It was supposed to include a press release from a social welfare organisation.

Hoax letters

Daily Jang offices in two other cities, Quetta and Rawalpindi, also received letters claiming to contain anthrax spores, although no infection has been reported there.

Postal workers in Karachi
Security in Pakistan is being stepped up

The Daily Jang's English-language sister publication, The News, said the letter sent to the Quetta office contained a short message: "Anthrax gift for you and your staff".

There have been several anthrax scares in Pakistan, including alerts at the US embassy and the British High Commission in Islamabad.

The US embassy said on Friday that white powder in a letter it received had tested negative for the disease, Reuters news agency reported.

Staff appear well

The powder received by Jang's Karachi office was sent to the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi for tests.

Mehmood Sham, editor of the paper, said the tests had proved positive for anthrax spores.

But it was not clear which form of anthrax had been found, suggesting that further tests may be needed.

Mr Sham said six staff present when the letter was opened were immediately put on antibiotics. Another 60 to 80 staff are now also being given medication.

The editor told the BBC World Service's Newshour programme that he had no idea why his publication had been targeted. He said that although the paper supported the government's stand against terrorism it had also given "vast coverage" to parties opposing the government's position.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jill McGivering in Islamabad
"There's a lingering fear there could be more to come"
The BBC's Susannah Price in Islamabad
"Some security measures are now in place"
Prof Aata-Ur Rehman, Pakistani science minister
"There's no reason to panic"
See also:

30 Oct 01 | Americas
Q&A: The anthrax mystery
02 Nov 01 | Health
Warning over anthrax antibiotics
01 Nov 01 | Media reports
Full text: Bin Laden's 'letter to Muslims'
10 Oct 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Pakistan's fault lines
02 Nov 01 | South Asia
Pakistan's establishment newspaper
02 Nov 01 | Europe
Germany's anthrax 'false alarm'
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