Karachi on high alert after shooting of MP triggers riot

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The Independent Online

Clashes that killed at least 45 people overnight in Karachi scared residents off its streets yesterday as Pakistan's largest city was on put alert for more violence after the shooting of a prominent party leader.

Officials said more than 100 people were wounded and dozens of vehicles and shops sat alight by mobs who took to the streets after Raza Haider, a member of the provincial Sindh Assembly from the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), was gunned down on Monday.

The government blamed the Taliban and the banned militant group Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) for the killing.

There had been threats against Haider's funeral, but it passed peacefully and Karachi endured a tense calm in the late afternoon. Around 50 people have been arrested in connection with the violence since Haider's murder. Police also arrested four members of the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) militant group on Tuesday in two different raids, though they were not connected to Monday's attack.

"They belong to the LeJ's Fazal Mehsud group and were involved in the attacks in Lahore on the Ahmadi mosque," said senior police official Fayyaz Khan.

"We are also interrogating them on different acts of violence in Karachi," said Khan.

Followers of the Ahmadi sect consider themselves Muslims but Pakistan has declared them non-Muslims.

The latest violence once again raised fears of instability in Karachi, a city of 18 million and Pakistan's commercial hub and about the flight of Taliban militants to the city after army offensives against their bases in Pakistan's northwest. Some analysts said the violence could ultimately affect the economy. Karachi is home to the country's main port, the central bank and the stock exchange.

"It is a pathetic situation and exposes the helplessness of the government to perform its basic duty towards its citizens," said Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a political and security analyst.

The MQM, a coalition partner in the federal as well as the provincial Sindh government, renewed calls for a crackdown on militants after the killing of its lawmaker.

"For the past three to four years we have been pointing out and giving evidence about the presence of Taliban and extremists in Karachi," said Wasay Jalil, a spokesman for the MQM.

"We were ridiculed at that time. But now everyone is admitting that the Taliban and the SSP are here."