Bomber among dead in Karachi explosions

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Two bombs exploded in rapid succession killing two people in Karachi today as a strike called by two militant ethnic–based parties paralysed Pakistan's southern Sindh province.

Two bombs exploded in rapid succession killing two people in Karachi today as a strike called by two militant ethnic–based parties paralysed Pakistan's southern Sindh province.

The first and most violent explosion occurred in the posh Clifton area of Karachi, killing the bomber and a passerby. Army and paramilitary soldiers cordoned off the area. Initially police believed both victims were passersby. Karachi is the provincial capital.

A second bomb exploded a mile away, but there were no injuries, police said. The bomb disposal squad said the crude homemade device was hidden on a bicycle. The blast blew out windows in nearby buildings.

No one took responsibility for either explosion, but police believe it was linked to today's strike call by the ethnic Muttahida Qami Movement, an advocate for Urdu–speakers, and the Sindh nationalist Jeay Sindh group.

The strike was called to protest police excesses in controlling almost daily demonstrations in southern Karachi against a severe water shortage.

Unruly mobs in Karachi also set on fire at least 40 vehicles, police and witnesses said.

Gunmen ordered shops closed and fired in the air with automatic weapons to keep people off the street, they said. The two militant groups routinely enforce their strike calls – a common means of protest in southern Sindh province – with violence.

MQM militants waged a gunbattle with security forces in a congested western neighborhood. There were no reports of injuries in the exchange.

Overnight police swept through several neighborhoods arresting about 200 people, many of them activists of the two parties. Several other people were arrested in other parts of Sindh, police said.

"There is no justification for violence or for a strike," said Mohammed Mian Somroo, Sindh provincial governor.

The military government that took power in Pakistan in October 1999 banned public protests and demonstrations.

However the two militant parties, which claim popular support in Sindh province, have staged almost daily protests against a protracted drought that has decimated entire crops. They accuse the army government of doing too little to help Sindh farmers, many of whom have lost their entire crop.

The drought is expected to cost Pakistan US$1.2 billion in lost agricultural revenue.

The two militant groups say the military government is favoring the populous Punjab province by giving it more water and denying southern Sindh sufficient access to the water.

The army denies the charge, saying that the trouble is a natural disaster and it has released additional water for Sindh province.

Security has been stepped up throughout Karachi, where police and paramilitary troops are patrolling in machine–gun mounted vehicles.

Reports from other parts of the province say most major cities have been shut down by protesters.

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