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Pakistan: Taliban picks new leader after US drone strike kills Mehsud

The Pakistani Taliban has picked a new leader after a US drone strike killed commander Hakimullah Mehsud. On Saturday, supporters of the slain Pakistani Taliban leader fired at US drones.

On Saturday, the Pakistani Taliban voted to promote No. 2 commander Khan Said, aka Sajna, to replace Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed by a US drone strike on Friday.

Drones flew over North Waziristan Saturday, a day after a US strike killed the leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Some opened fire on at least one of the unmanned aircraft.

"Tribesmen and militants were firing with light and heavy guns for an hour," Tariq Khan, a shopkeeper, told the news agency AFP. "Local people are scared," he added. "The death of Hakimullah Mehsud has created uncertainty. Everyone is talking about Taliban revenge."

The TTP serves as an umbrella of groups allied with the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan has protested to the US over the drone strikes, saying that they violate the country's sovereignty.

'With great sorrow'

On Saturday, the TTP buried Mehsud and others killed with him - his bodyguard, driver, uncle and a commander - when drones fired four missiles at a compound in Danda Darpa Khel. Security officials told news agencies that the Taliban had buried the dead rebel leader and his associates in different areas of the tribal region, but did not give specifics.

"We confirm with great sorrow that our esteemed leader was martyred in a drone attack," a senior TTP commander had told the Reuters news agency on Friday.

Mehsud - whose predecessor, TTP founder Baitullah Mehsud, was killed by a drone in 2009- had been reported dead several times. In May, a strike killed Mehsud's No. 2.

Opposition to strikes

The attacks have proved unpopular in Pakistan, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif urged US President Barack Obama to stop them. On Wednesday, Pakistan's Defense Ministry announced that 317 drone strikes had taken place since 2008, killing 67 civilians and 2,106 militants. The strikes come as Pakistan announced it would start talks with the TTP, which had recently softened its positions, but demanded preconditions for negotiating - including the end of drone attacks in the tribal areas.

The US charged Mehsud with terrorism after a suicide attack killed seven Americans at a CIA base in Afghanistan in 2009. Mehsud's capture had been sought by the US with a $5 million (3.6 million euros) bounty for the killing of the seven CIA employees. Mehsud appeared in a farewell video for the Jordanian suicide bomber who killed the seven.

He oversaw high-profile attacks, including the attempt to kill the activist Malala Yousafzai.

More than 40,000 people have died in Pakistan since the conflict between the government and TTP started six years ago.

mkg/slk (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)