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Unrest kills 46 in Pakistani city of Karachi

International Desk |
Update: 2010-08-02 23:58:44
Unrest kills 46 in Pakistani city of Karachi

KARACHI - Political and ethnic violence erupted in Pakistan`s biggest city of Karachi after the murder of an MP, killing 46 people as protesters torched vehicles in the deadliest episode since January.

The lawmaker, who represented the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a partner in the Sindh provincial ruling coalition led by the Pakistan Peoples Party, was shot dead by gunmen on motorcycles on Monday.

Raza Haider`s assassination sparked panic in the teeming city of 16 million, where markets closed and streets emptied as gunfire erupted overnight in parts of the financial capital.

Karachi has been largely spared the Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked bomb attacks that have dogged northwest Pakistan, but is plagued by ethnic and sectarian killings, crime and kidnappings.

The unrest exacerbated woes in a country that is battling with unprecedented flooding that has killed up to 1,500 people and affected a total of 3.2 million, and trying to contain a diplomatic row with Britain over terrorism.

In Karachi dozens of vehicles and several shops were set on fire and more than 90 people were wounded.

Police said they stepped up security to prevent major incidents of violence or sabotage, deploying hundreds of officers to protect Haider`s funeral.

"The government puts the death toll to 46 as another victim of the violence succumbed to his wounds at a hospital this afternoon," said Sindh government spokesman Jameel Soomro.

Officials described the dead as rickshaw drivers, cab drivers, labourers and passers-by from various ethnic groups who were shot dead in some of the city`s most destitute neighbourhoods.

"Miscreants torched up to 24 buses and cars last night. They also damaged a petrol station and a few shops in different parts of the city," Soomro said.

"The violence seemed to be the reaction to yesterday`s killing of the MQM MP, but at the same time a third party could exploit the situation to destabilise our democratic government and disturb Karachi," he said.

It was the worst violence of this nature in Karachi since three days of unrest killed 48 political party workers in January.

Calm returned Tuesday and Soomro said orders had been given to forces to "shoot on sight miscreants involved in creating a law and order problem".

"The police have arrested 20 suspects belonging to banned Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ) outfits and charged them for the killing of MP Raza Haider," Soomro said.

"Investigators are also inquiring whether the same outfits` militants were involved in the violent deaths which started after Haider`s assassination."

Provincial authorities have banned public political meetings in Karachi in an effort to control intermittent waves of political killings.

Tensions are high between coalition partners MQM and the Awami National Party (ANP), which represent different communities in Karachi and so straddle political faultlines in the city.

The ANP is the party of more than two million Pashtuns who have escaped poverty and Taliban-linked violence in the northwest for Karachi, where they largely perform menial jobs in transport and construction.

MQM represents the city`s dominant Urdu-speaking population. It has called for a city shutdown to protest against the lawmaker`s killing.

Both parties accused each other over targeted killings and analysts say groups are at war in Karachi as part of a power struggle.

"There is a pitched war among various groups for political influence and political space in the city," I.A. Rehman, secretary general of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) told AFP.

"Extremist elements take advantage of the situation whenever a law-and-order problem is created in Karachi."

The government has not released exact figures, but the HRCP said 260 targeted killing cases were reported in Karachi during the first six months of the year, compared with 156 during the same period in 2009.

BDST 1945 HRS, AUGUST 3, 2010

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