M A I N   N E W S

Group clashes before suspended CJ’s rally
30 killed in Karachi
Afzal Khan writes from Islamabad

At least 30 persons were killed and over 125 wounded in one of the worst incidents of violence in Pakistan's biggest city Karachi today. The violence was sparked by suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s plan to address a lawyers’ meeting.

In the day long ‘battle’ between armed groups of President Musharraf’s coalition partner Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and opposition parties, there was a free for all with law enforcing agencies standing mysteriously paralysed. As many as 15,000 policemen on duty who were assisted by paramilitary Rangers remained unmoved and made no attempt to disengage the warring groups.

As chaos prevailed on city roads amid indiscriminate firing, Justice Iftikhar and more than two dozen lawyers accompanying him from Islamabad remained stuck on Karachi airport for eight hours finding it impossible to travel to the venue of the meeting through the main boulevard blocked by containers and trucks.

Iftikhar later returned to Islamabad after authorities served Governor Sindh's extradition orders on all 25 lawyers accompanying him. Iftikhar declined an offer by the Sindh government to fly to the Sindh High Court building in a helicopter and opted to return.

Tension had been brewing in the city for past four days when the MQM announced that it would stage a counter rally to prevent opposition parties from “hijacking” Justice Iftikhar's purported struggle for independence of judiciary. Many among the ruling coalition, including former premier Zafrullah Jamali, advised the MQM to defer its rally to another day to avert a certain clash.

Both sides, however, blamed each other for the violence. MQM's chief Altaf Hussain, who is living in London in self-exile, addressed the group’s rally and held Chief Justice Iftikhar responsible for the killings demanding his resignation. He said the city was peaceful till Iftikhar landed at Karachi airport at about noon. He vowed to fight the elements who were trying to destabilise Musharraf under cover of lawyers' protest against the removal of Justice Iftikhar.

Senior PPP leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim, who said eight of his party's activists were killed, blamed the MQM for setting its "armed goons" on peaceful processions of opposition parties. He said Musharraf had deliberately encouraged MQM to stage its counter rally for ulterior motives.

In Islamabad, Musharraf addressed a big rally condemning Karachi violence. He slammed the opposition for creating chaos in the country.

He said he is not alone. “The people are with me and the armed forces stand by me.”

Violence had begun late Friday night when two workers of the Nawaz Sharif faction of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) were shot down while sticking posters on walls. In the morning a leader of influential religious party, Sunni Tehril, was also killed.



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