Pakistan: General strike leaves Karachi deserted

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The Independent Online

Pakistan's largest city ground to a halt yesterday, with most residents staying off the streets after its most powerful political party called a strike over the killing of at least 96 people in Karachi in the past week.

Businesses, schools and government offices were closed, while public buses and taxis stayed off the road. The strike, called by the the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, came as police found the bodies of 10 more people.

Karachi, a teeming southern city of some 18 million people, has a long history of political, ethnic and sectarian violence, much of it blamed on gangs allegedly linked to the main political parties, including the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. The government has been unable to stop the fighting as it also grapples with a faltering economy and a raging Islamist insurgency.

The unrest illustrates the precarious state of Pakistan's stability at a time when the US wants the nuclear-armed country to step up its fight against Taliban militants who stage cross-border attacks against foreign troops in Afghanistan.

One of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement's top leaders, Farooq Sattar, claimed that many of the people killed recently were members of the party's base: Urdu-speaking descendants of people who came to Karachi from India soon after the birth of Pakistan in 1947.