Strike over Karachi violence cripples Pakistani cities
May 14, 2007 - 11:30:55 PM

Islamabad, May 14 - Pakistan's commercial centre Karachi and other major cities were paralysed Monday by opposition strikes in protest against political violence that claimed 41 lives at the weekend.

Demonstrators also held rallies in other parts of the country, burning effigies of President Pervez Musharraf and demanding the military ruler's resignation.

Markets and shops remained closed in Karachi and public transport in the southern port city was also suspended as 12,000 paramilitary troops with shoot-to-kill orders patrolled the streets.

In some minor disturbances rioters set several vehicles on fire and pelted police with stones. Three people including one policeman were injured, officials said.

'Shops were closed and public transport remained off the roads. But by and large there was calm in the city, life is slowly returning to normal here,' deputy police chief Mushtaq Shah told DPA.

At least eight people were injured during protests in other parts of Sindh province where Karachi is located.

The pro-government Muttahida Quami Movement -, which the opposition has accused of organising the weekend's violence, claimed that opposition workers attacked its offices and burned party flags.

Rival armed groups clashed in Karachi Saturday as the country's suspended chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry arrived to address the Sindh High Court Bar Association.

Musharraf removed Chaudhry March 9 for alleged abuse of office, triggering protests that quickly grew into a broader movement against military rule by the army general.

Main commercial centres and markets also stayed shut Monday in the cities of Lahore, Rawalpindi, Multan and Faisalabad in the central Punjab province, and to some extent in the capital Islamabad.

The city of Quetta in the southwest Balochistan province observed a total strike, while police fired teargas shells to disperse protesters in Hub, another town in the province.

Meanwhile, lawyers' organisations demanded the creation of an independent inquiry commission following the Karachi violence.

While the clashes initially flared between government supporters and the opposition, the unrest started to assume ethnic dimensions.

Pashtun businesses and shops in Karachi were targeted in several incidents, allegedly by MQM supporters, news reports said. Locals in a Pashtun-dominated area in north Karachi also attacked vehicles and people dressed in the style of the Mohajirs who dominate the MQM.

Musharraf and the government have condemned the violence but pointed the finger at Chaudhry and the opposition for trying to congregate in the city during a rally Saturday by the MQM.

In another development, a 14-member panel of judges that was due to hear petitions related to Chaudhry's suspension was dissolved Monday before it started proceedings.

'One of the 14 judges on the panel, Justice Falak Sher, refused to participate in the proceedings,' Chaudhry's defence counsel Tariq Mehmud told DPA.

According to Mehmud, Sher told the panel that he had challenged Chaudhry's appointment as chief justice in 2005 and that his participation in hearings would be inappropriate.

This was the third panel of judges to be suspended during hearings of the case against the judge.

Acting Chief Justice Rana Bhagwandas later reconstituted the panel with 13 judges, which was to start working from Tuesday.

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