NEW DELHI, India -- India banned Pakistan's national airline from entering Indian airspace and ordered half of Pakistan's embassy staff out of the country Thursday in new sanctions amid heightening tensions between the two nuclear-armed rivals.
Pakistan immediately matched India's sanctions, accusing New Delhi of fanning the crisis and saying it wanted to hold talks to defuse tensions. Still, government spokesman Gen. Rashid Quereshi Pakistan still has "the capacity to react and retaliate in all conceivable ways" -- though he said a nuclear confrontation was "unthinkable."
In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell called leaders on both sides Wednesday, urging them to pull back from confrontation and resolve their differences through dialogue.
China -- a powerhouse neighboring both nations -- also said Thursday that it was "deeply worried" by India-Pakistan tensions and called for "dialogue and consultations" to keep stability.
With both sides fortifying troops on their border, fears have risen over the prospect of a new conflict after India accused Pakistan of sponsoring a Dec. 13 gun attack on Parliament in New Delhi that killed 14 people. Islamabad denies the charge.
Accusing Pakistan of "supporting terrorism," India's Security Cabinet approved a swath of new diplomatic and economic sanctions on Thursday aimed at forcing it to act against two Islamic militant groups India says conducted the Parliament attack.
Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh said the new steps were necessary because India's concerns over terrorism "have not been fully grasped in Pakistan."
The ban on overflights will take effect on Tuesday; within two days, half of Pakistan's embassy staff will be ordered out and the rest restricted to the capital, New Delhi, Singh said. India will at the same time withdraw half its embassy staff from Islamabad.
The Pakistani embassy, or High Commission, was "involved in espionage as well as direct dealings with terrorist organizations," Singh told reporters without giving any specifics.
Two hours later, Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan announced on state television that Pakistan's overflight ban would start at the same time.
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