PESHAWAR, Pakistan - A bomb blew a bus carrying Pakistani police and government workers off a high bridge Thursday, killing eight, as fighting between security forces and extremists flared across the country's northwest.
More than 200 people have been killed in a cycle of bombings and clashes since longtime U.S. ally Pervez Musharraf quit as president and triggered a power struggle that caused the country's ruling coalition to collapse.
The turmoil has left the party long led by slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in a position to dominate the government and it has been toughening its stance against Islamist extremists.
U.S. officials have been pressing for more action against insurgent strongholds in Pakistan's wild border region, but Pakistan's military insists it is doing what it can to contain militants and prevent them from moving against NATO and Afghan troops on the other side of the border.
Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani met Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other top American commanders Tuesday to discuss security strategy "in an open and cordial manner," a military statement said.
The gathering was prescheduled, it said, but gave no further details.
The New York Times reported that the meeting took place on a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean and focused on coordinating counterinsurgency efforts along the Pakistan-Afghan border.
The Pakistani Taliban, meanwhile, are becoming increasingly bold, claiming responsibility for a wave of suicide bombings and gun attacks.
Thursday's powerful blast incinerated the car in which the bomb was hidden and left a massive crater in the middle of the long, concrete bridge near the city of Bannu.
The badly damaged bus smashed through a railing on the side of the bridge and tumbled about 30 feet into a mostly dry river bed below.
Jalil Khan, the local police chief, said the bus was en route to a local prison to pick up several inmates. He said seven policemen and an education department official who had hitched a ride were killed.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, though police said militants were the likely culprits.
Musharraf resigned on Aug. 18, nine years after seizing power in a military coup, to avoid impeachment by political rivals who triumphed in February elections.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif pulled out of the coalition a week later over its failure to restore judges purged by Musharraf last year.
Lawyers who agitated for more than a year in favor of the judges and against Musharraf restarted their rallies Thursday.
Several thousand demonstrators blocked roads in a string of major cities. They also chanted slogans against Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's widower and the favorite to replace Musharraf when lawmakers select a new president on Sept. 6.
However, their numbers were smaller than in the past and Sharif's supporters largely stayed away.