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34 killed in Karachi ethnic violence
Published on 30 Apr. 2009 11:06 PM IST
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Armed ethnic clashes between Pashtun and Urdu-speaking groups have killed at least 34 people in Pakistan’s financial capital Karachi, officials said Thursday. The clashes broke out overnight in the heart of the sprawling port city of 14 million but paramilitary troops managed to restore calm later Thursday, the uneasy peace punctuated just occasionally by sporadic gunfire. The government of southern Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital, has issued shoot-on-sight orders for “miscreants”. “The home department has issued shoot-at-sight order for the miscreants who harm the life or property of peaceful people in Karachi,” provincial interior minister Zulfiqar Mirza told a news conference. “The situation is now under control and all the major political parties have agreed to gather on one platform to maintain permanent peace,” he said. Officials at Karachi’s largest hospital confirmed 25 dead there while nine bodies were delivered to another hospital in Pakistan’s largest city, a senior police official said. Dozens of people were wounded. The clashes, separate from the fighting between the government and Islamist militants in the country’s troubled northwest, left some parts of the usually bustling city almost deserted on Thursday. Bazaars and shopping areas in the city’s western and northern neighbourhoods remained closed, all Karachi schools were ordered shut and traffic on the streets was thin. “These are targeted killings by criminals, drug and land mafias who want to fan ethnic violence in the city,” Faisal Subzwari, provincial youth affairs minister, told AFP. Fire officials said mobs had burnt down dozens of shops and restaurants. Tensions between the Urdu-speaking Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) -- a partner in the national government -- and Pashtuns from northwest Pakistan who have flocked to Karachi looking for jobs are traditionally a source of unrest. MQM and the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) both sit in the coalition government in Sindh province, and leaders in both groups blamed unknown “miscreants” for the fighting rather than each other. But relations between their two communities are becoming increasingly tense. MQM members have criticised the Pashtuns for making the traditionally liberal city more and more conservative -- pointing to an alleged “Talibanisation”. ANP denies the allegations and accuses Karachi mafia of land grabbing in the city’s wealthy real estate resources. Youth affairs minister Subzwari, a member of the MQM, said three of those killed in the violence belonged to his party. A spokesman for President Asif Ali Zardari said the head of state strongly condemned the violence and called for unity. “The president said that the nation could not afford violence in Karachi at a time when it was already dealing with the militants in northern parts of the country,” spokesman Farhatullah Babar said. Pakistan is locked in fierce fighting in the northwest in a bid to flush out Taliban rebels and prevent them gaining ground in the troubled country. “We will foil the designs of those who want to exploit the situation by creating and promoting political and ethnic difference,” Babar said. A spokesman for the Pakistan Rangers paramilitary force said they had arrested 25 suspects, and confiscated weapons and ammunition. Mirza said the ANP and MQM agreed at a Thursday meeting not to extend political backing to criminals. “All the parties have agreed that those arrested red-handed will be dealt with as criminals and no political group will support them,” he said. In December last year 24 people were killed and more than 200 injured in incidents blamed on activists from the MQM and ANP.

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