Pakistan violence toll rises

At least 34 people have died in clashes in Karachi.

    Chaudhry was forced to abandon plans to address a rally in Karachi [Reuters]

    The death toll rose to 34 from the initial 28 after more dead bodies arrived in four Karachi hospitals and a police officer was killed by a mob late on Saturday, police and hospital officials said.
     
    Most of the victims were members of opposition parties supporting Iftikhar Chaudhry, the chief justice suspended on March 9 by Gen Musharraf.

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    Chaudhry was to hold a rally in Karachi, Pakistan's main sea port and commercial hub, while pro-government supporters held a rally in Islamabad, the capital.

    The judge later abandoned plans to address supporters in view of the violence in Karachi. 

    New York-based Human Rights Watch said Musharraf's government and its allies had apparently "deliberately sought to foment violence in Karachi", adding that police stood by as "silent spectators".

     
    'Streets of terror'
     
    Imran Khan, chairman of the opposition Movement for Justice, said: "What we saw today in Karachi was terror on the streets to stop a peaceful procession to welcome the chief justice into Karachi.
     
    "You had policemen standing aside allowing the ruling party gunmen to fire into the crowd."

     

    Meanwhile, Musharaff, addressing around 80,000 supporters at a pro-goverment rally in Islamabad, said: "This is a historical day... because I haven't been to any gathering where I have seen so many people in support of the government's policies."

    Opposition demonstrations have been
    growing in the past two months [AFP]

    Speaking earlier in the day, Musharraf did not mention the Karachi violence, but ruled out declaring a state of emergency,

    Musharraf said: "There is absolutely no requirement and absolutely no environment for taking such drastic measure."

    Critics say Musharraf is sidelining the judge to head off legal challenges to his plan to seek a new five-year presidential term later this year.

    The government maintains the move was not politically motivated and that Chaudhry had abused his office.

    Two months of anti-Musharraf rallies across the country by opposition parties and lawyers have been gathering momentum and pro-government parties have now decided to respond with their own show of strength.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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