40 dead in Karachi as government, opposition flex muscles
May 14, 2007 - 10:39:21 AM

Karachi/Islamabad, May 14 - Death roll in continuing political violence in Karachi mounted to 40 as the government and the opposition parties flexed muscles, raising apprehensions of ethnic violence this port town of Pakistan is known for.

At least eight people, including policemen, died in Sunday's violence, while the number of injured was not known.

The city has witnessed violence in the wake of political rallies, for and against suspended Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who visited briefly, but was not allowed to address members of the Sindh High Court Bar Association. His suspension on March 9 on charges of misuse of office to promote his son has triggered a nationwide agitation.

The Sindh Government issued shoot-at-sight order to the para-military Pakistan Rangers and promulgated prohibitory order for 30 days across the province banning carrying of weapons and restricting public meetings to marriages and funerals.

'The Rangers have got extra powers of shoot on sight and arrest in case of riots and violence,' said Major General Javed Zia head of the Rangers.

Officials said about 18,000 paramilitary rangers and police were in place to restore order to the port city. 'We have sent more contingents of paramilitary troops for deployment in affected areas of Karachi,' said Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao.

The opposition Alliance for Restoration of Democracy - gave a call for a nationwide strike, even as federal Information Minister Muhammad Ali Durrani blamed the violence since Saturday on the opposition.

Durrani threatened that the government would move the Supreme Court for a ruling to 'prohibit politicians from exploiting judiciary'.

'Judiciary should take suo motu action to stop the politicians from using the Chief Justice of Pakistan - cover to further their political interests,' Information Minister said talking to journalists in Islamabad.

Media reports carried first-person accounts by their reporters, including women journalists, whose movements were restricted by political workers barricading different parts of the city. One of them said that a political activist 'pointed a gun between my eyes' till the media identity was shown.

Policemen and paramilitary personnel on duty, armed with batons, stood by, either expressing helplessness for want of 'orders from above' or simply laughed away, said the reporter.

The man in the eye of the storm, Chief Justice Chaudhry, whose visit to Karachi sparked the violence last Saturday, may still return to Karachi, media reports said.

Chaudhry would visit Karachi again 'if he is invited again by the Sindh High Court Bar Association -, his lawyers told media in Islamabad Sunday, The Daily Times said. This meeting could take place on May 24.

Aitzaz Ahsan, Justice - Tariq Mehmood, Ali Ahmed Kurd and Munir A. Malik, rallying in support of Chaudhry, also announced a countrywide protest Monday to condemn the carnage in Karachi.

They blamed the Sindh government and the pro-Musharraf Muttahida Quami Movement -, a party with strong base in Karachi, for the violence and urged the Supreme Court to order an inquiry into the killings.

They said they would challenge the order banning their entry in Sindh.

Ahsan said the violence was a message that no one could enter Karachi without the approval of Altaf Hussain, the exiled MQM chief, who operates from London by addressing his workers on telephone.

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