Supporters take to the streets in fiery protest

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The Independent Online

With many cities across Pakistan ablaze last night, a high-security "red" alert was declared throughout the country. All schools, commercial centres and banks were closed for three days.

The most serious incidents took place in Benazir Bhutto's native province of Sindh, in the south of the country, where shops, cars and offices were set alight. In the assassinated leader's ancestral town of Larkana, supporters came out on to the streets to mourn and to vent their anger. Hundreds paraded across the town, performing the matam, a Shia rite of self-flagellation.

Many roads were said to be too dangerous to travel on and, in Karachi, tyres were set alight at many traffic junctions. Shooting and stone-throwing were also reported.

Within an hour of Ms Bhutto being declared dead, supporters from her Pakistan People's Party who had been busy preparing for the upcoming elections took to the streets in every constituency where the party has a strong presence. This contrasted sharply with 1979 and the hanging of Ms Bhutto's father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, when the streets afterwards remained quiet.

Among the chief targets of PPP supporters' fury last night was President Pervez Musharraf. Hundreds of PPP members took part in protests this spring in support of the deposed chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, and the slogans from that unrest were revived last night: "Go Musharraf Go" and "Musharraf is a dog".

In Lahore, the offices of the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League were torched, and the motorway to Islamabad was sealed off. Airports were experiencing disruptions, as many flights were cancelled. And in the troubled North-West Frontier Province, a curfew was imposed.

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