Karachi shut after 45 killed in clashes

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The Independent Online

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

Officials said more than 100 people were wounded and dozens of vehicles and shops torched 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 yesterday along with his bodyguard while attending a funeral.

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

There had been threats against Haider's funeral, but it passed peacefully and Karachi endured a tense calm in the late afternoon. Police said about 50 people had been arrested in connection with the violence since Haider's murder.

Police said they have also arrested four members of the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) militant group today in two different raids, though they were not connected to yesterday'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, referring to attacks in May on two mosques of the Ahmadi sect.

"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.

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 politician.

"For the past 3 to 4 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."

Today, a day after the killing, Karachi was tense with police and paramilitary troops patrolling deserted streets.

Hyderabad, the second largest city of the province, was also largely deserted as were other towns after the MQM called for three days of mourning.