South Asia News
At least 18 killed in clashes in Karachi (1st Lead)
May 12, 2007, 9:59 GMT
At least 18 people were reported killed and more than 40 injured Saturday in skirmishes between rival groups in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi where the country\'s suspended chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was due to address supporters.
Islamabad - At least 18 people were reported killed and more than 40 injured Saturday in skirmishes between rival groups in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi where the country's suspended chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was due to address supporters.
News reports described the scene as a 'battleground' as armed workers of the pro-government party Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) clashed with activists of the oppositional Jamaat-i-Islami religious party, the Geo news channel reported.
Despite the deployment of 15,000 police and paramilitary troops ahead of scheduled political rallies by opposing forces, groups converged and exchanged fire outside Karachi airport where Chaudhry had arrived from Islamabad.
At least eight people died in the area and a number of vehicles were set on fire, emergency officials told Aaj television.
Further deaths were reported in other parts of the city, bringing the early tally to 18, although there was no official confirmation of the figure. Emergency services were unable to reach a number of dead and injured people lying on the streets between the conflicting sides, Geo said.
Television footage showed a pall of smoke drifting across the city of 16 million inhabitants and gunfire was audible.
Aaj said armed persons opened fire on its studio but did not cause any casualties. The women's section of the Karachi Bar Association was also set on fire, according to Geo.
This was the worst violence linked to the judge's suspension since President Pervez Musharraf removed him on March 9 over charges of abuse of office.
Lawyers and opposition forces have held repeated demonstrations, posing the greatest challenge to Musharraf's authority since he came to power in a coup in 1999.
Despite the gravity of the situation in Karachi, there was no question of imposing a state of emergency, the president said in Islamabad.
Up to 400,000 people were expected to take part in a pro-Musharraf rally in the capital later in the day.
Meanwhile, Chaudhry's lawyers claimed that security forces tried to forcefully detain the judge at Karachi airport to prevent him from addressing the legal fraternity in the city.
'Rangers personnel and police dragged the chief justice to the exit door,' defence counsel Aitzaz Ahsan told reporters at the airport.
The judge was given the options of either returning to Islamabad or being flown by helicopter to Governor House in Karachi, ostensibly for his own protection, Ahsan claimed.
But the judge remained confined to the airport lounge after security forces blocked all approach roads with large containers, tankers and buses, apparently to prevent his supporters from staging a welcome.
Three people were also killed in the city in violence Friday night. Two died when unidentified gunmen riding on a motorcycle opened fire on activists from another opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz Sharif, as they were making arrangements to greet Chaudhry.
In a separate incident, a security guard was shot dead while resisting a group of armed political activists who were trying to force shopkeepers to close their businesses.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur