Karachi clash toll mounts to 30
May 12, 2007 - 11:24:39 PM

Islamabad, May 12 - At least 30 people were killed and more than 100 injured Saturday in clashes in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi where suspended chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was to address a rally of his supporters, news reports said.

Television footage showed blazing vehicles and smoke drifting across the city of 16 million inhabitants as workers of the pro-government party Muttahida Qaumi Movement - exchanged fire with opposition activists ahead of rallies.

Despite the deployment of 15,000 police and paramilitary troops, shooting continued through the day and city hospitals struggled to cope with the flow of dead and wounded. Gunmen also stopped an ambulance and killed the driver and an injured passenger, health officials said.

Speaking at a pro-government rally attended by some 35,000 people in the capital Islamabad, President Pervez Musharraf condemned the unrest but laid the blame on Chaudhry and also on the opposition for impeding his supporters in Karachi.

'The main reason for what happened today in Karachi is that a judicial matter was politicised,' said Musharraf, who suspended the judge for alleged abuse of office on March 9, triggering a wave of protests.

'The second reason is that the chief justice travelled there after ignoring the government's warning that his visit would lead to political violence,' he added.

The opposition in turn pointed the finger at the pro-government party, saying the MQM had ignored a request not to stage its rally on the same day.

Former prime minister and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto condemned the government for creating 'civil war conditions' in the city.

'The sight of the sons of Pakistan bleeding to death in the streets of Karachi is a shocking insight into the cruelty of the present regime,' Bhutto said in a statement.

Thousands of lawyers and opposition supporters staged repeated demonstrations over Chaudhry's suspension in recent weeks, fuelling a growing political movement against army chief Musharraf, who came to power in a coup in 1999.

But despite the gravity of the situation in Karachi, there was no question of imposing a state of emergency, the president stressed.

'There is absolutely no requirement and absolutely no environment for taking such drastic measures,' Musharraf said in Rawalpindi, promising also to ensure free and fair elections when he seeks a further term later this year.

Regardless of the bloodshed, thousands of people attended the MQM rally in Karachi in a show of support for the embattled president, while he gave on a defiant showing in the capital.

'The real power is the public and if someone wants to see the power of the public he should come here and witness this sea of people who have come to support me,' Musharraf said.

The president appealed to the lawyers to halt their protests and said he would respect the decision of the full bench of judges of the Supreme Court that is hearing the case against Chaudhry.

Meanwhile, the judge's lawyers claimed that security forces tried to forcefully detain him after he landed in Karachi to prevent a planned address to members of the Bar Association.

'Rangers personnel and police dragged the chief justice to the exit door,' defence counsel Aitzaz Ahsan told reporters at the airport.

The judge was given the option of either returning to Islamabad or being flown by helicopter to Governor House in Karachi, ostensibly for his own protection, Ahsan claimed.

Police blocked approach roads with containers, tankers and buses, apparently to prevent his supporters from staging a welcome. After spending several hours confined in the airport, Chaudhry abandoned his visit and returned to Islamabad in the evening.

At least eight people died in skirmishes outside the airport, emergency officials told the private Aaj television channel, the premises of which also came under fire for more than five hours with no intervention by authorities.

Four bodies were lying outside the studio, its correspondent said, while a mob burned cars and motorbikes belonging to staff. Aaj has given exhaustive coverage to Chaudhry's stand-off with the authorities but the MQM denied targeting the building.

A lawyers' spokesman told the BBC that bar association members in Karachi were attacked by MQM activists in various parts of the city.

'Our colleagues have been brutally attacked while the government has given the MQM a free hand,' he said. 'This is the end of rule of law in the country.'

The Sindh High Court was also surrounded by hundreds of MQM activists. The lawyers said that the crowd attacked them and prevented them from entering the court premises where Chaudhry had been due to speak.

All rights reserved by RxPG Medical Solutions Private Limited ( )