Troops deployed in Karachi as violence continues
May 13, 2007 - 6:13:09 PM

Islamabad, May 13 - Pakistani troops were Sunday patrolling the streets of Karachi amid further clashes after major political violence that claimed up to 36 lives and injured more than 100 people, news reports said.

Hundreds of protesters blocked roads with burning tyres and threw stones at police vehicles.

At least one person died as pro-government and opposition groups again took to the streets, according to the Geo private news channel. Police tried to disperse the mob and resorted to tear gas, which turned into exchange of fire, it said.

Daily life came to a standstill across the city, traffic remained suspended and almost all shops were closed.

Karachi police chief Azhar Farooqi described the situation as 'very tense.' Dozens of people were reportedly arrested.

Clashes erupted Saturday as supporters of pro-government and opposition parties rallied simultaneously over the March 9 suspension of chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry by President Pervez Musharraf.

The judge had arrived at Karachi airport but was prevented from addressing the Sindh Province High Court Bar Association as planned.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani leadership came under harsh criticism over its failure to ensure security.

'Millions of TV viewers saw gunmen roaming the streets with impunity and firing from positions taken on buildings and bridges, with some unashamedly waving party flags,' the Dawn newspaper wrote.

The government was also lashed for allowing a rally of the loyal Muttahida Qaumi Movement - to go ahead during the planned Chaudhry's appearance, which was sure to draw a large show of solidarity by his supporters.

'Surely, given past experience, it should have known that the situation could very quickly degenerate into violence and bloodshed,' the Pakistani daily The News commented.

But despite the official claim that 15,000 police and paramilitary troops were deployed to keep order during the events, scant action was taken to stop the marauding groups.

'It appeared at times as if there were no government and it was gunmen who ruled the nation's biggest city,' Dawn said.

Media also reported the condemnation by the New York-based Human Rights Watch of the violence by rival political forces. The organization urged the government to restore order in the city and to apprehend and charge the perpetrators regardless of party affiliation.

Journalists across the country have also condemned Saturday's attack by gunmen on the Karachi offices of the Aaj television channel, which has given exhaustive coverage of the judicial crisis and the suspended judge's public appearances in recent weeks.

Despite assurances given by the provincial home secretary that help was on its way, no attempt was made to deal with attackers who fired at the building for several hours.

Speaking at a pro-government rally in the capital Islamabad, President Musharraf Saturday condemned the unrest but laid the blame on Chaudhry and on the opposition for impeding his supporters in Karachi.

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

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