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By STEPHEN GRAHAM, Associated Press Writer Thu Oct 2, 8:57 AM ET

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – The U.N. ordered children of its international staff to leave the Pakistani capital and other areas it considered unsafe, raising its security level following the bombing of the Marriott Hotel, officials said Thursday.

The move, which came a day after Britain decided to repatriate diplomats’ children, underlines the deteriorating situation in Pakistan, which is under intense U.S. pressure to combat Islamic militants responsible for rising attacks at home and in neighboring Afghanistan.

In the latest incident, a suicide bomber blew himself up near the house of a leading secular politician in Pakistan‘s restive northwest, killing at least four people, police said.

Pakistan has suffered a surge in attacks by Taliban and al-Qaida-linked militants on government, military and Western targets over the last two years that has fanned fears about the nuclear-armed nation’s stability.

Thursday’s attack occurred as the politician, Asfandyar Wali Khan, was receiving guests to mark the end of the Islamic fasting month at his home in Charsadda.

Earlier this week, Pakistan’s military reported that suicide attacks have killed nearly 1,200 people — most of them civilians — since the July 2007 army assault on militants holed up in Islamabad’s radical Red Mosque.

The Sept. 20 Marriott bombing was among the worst, killing at least 54 people, including three Americans and the Czech ambassador. Since then, foreign missions have been reviewing their security.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon approved the latest move after the world body’s agencies in Islamabad recommended it earlier this week, said spokeswoman Amena Kamaal.

The order also applied to the neighboring city of Rawalpindi and areas near the Afghan border.

Under the decision, U.N. international staff will no longer be allowed to live with their children in the capital, the neighboring city of Rawalpindi or in Quetta, on the Afghan frontier.

Much of the border region, including the city of Peshawar is already off-limits for U.N. families. Some of those affected can relocate to areas deemed safer, such as Lahore or Karachi.

But others are expected to leave Pakistan, which could disrupt to a limited degree U.N. operations in the country as it faces severe economic difficulties and a crumbling of basic public services in militancy-torn areas.

About 100 of the world body’s more than 2,000 staff in Pakistan are foreigners, and only 20 had children who would be affected, Kamaal said.

Luc Chauvin, deputy representative in Pakistan for the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, said seven of its 33 international staff would have to relocate or send children away.

He said UNICEF was buying laptops and installing Internet connections in staffers’ homes to enable them to work without coming into the office — a potential target for attack.

“Of course there is a bit of an impact, but I think we can cope,” Chauvin said of the extra precautions.

Khalif Bile, country representative for the World Health Organization, said the effect on its activities would be “insignificant.” WHO works with the government on a campaign to eradicate polio that has been opposed by some Islamic hard-liners.

Britain announced Wednesday that about 60 children of its diplomats in Pakistan will return home. Pakistan has long been a non-family posting for U.S. and Canadian diplomatic staff.

Pakistani officials have blamed the Marriott blast on extremists holed up in tribal areas along the Afghan border who are suspected of mounting a wave of suicide attacks stretching back more than a year.

Several have taken place in the capital, including a suicide car bomb claimed by al-Qaida that killed six outside the Danish Embassy in June. A blast killed a Turkish aid worker and injured 12 people, including four FBI agents, at a restaurant in March.

Pakistani authorities have sought to reassure the expatriate community here by ramping up security in the capital, mounting extra checkpoints and posting paramilitary troops with machine guns at the entrance to the diplomatic quarter — apparently to little avail.

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Associated Press writers Nahal Toosi and Munir Ahmad in Islamabad and Riaz Khan in Peshawar contributed to this report

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