Speech sparks deadly riots in Karachi

Up to 14 people dead in latest outbreak of violence in Pakistani city as minister criticises locally powerful rival.

    Fighting between rival political groups has killed more than 100 people in Karachi over the last week [AFP]

    Deadly violence has erupted in Karachi, Pakistan's biggest city, amid a continuing war of words between members of the country's ruling party and a locally powerful rival movement.

    Up to 14 people were killed in riots which began on Wednesday, following a speech by Zulfiqar Mirza, Pakistan's provincial minister, in which he criticised Altaf Hussain, the founder of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).

    The MQM is the biggest party in Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital, representing the families of Urdu speakers who left India for Pakistan in 1947.

    In the speech, Mirza said Hussain was a bigger criminal than the leader of the breakaway Haqiqi party, who split from the MQM in the late 1980s, Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reported. Afaq Ahmed, the leader of Haqiqi, was arrested in 2003 and remains in prison.

    "In my view, the real leader of the Mohajir nation is Afaq Ahmed who has been in prison for eight years and not a single case against him has been proved.

    "In fact next to President Asif Ali Zardari he is the biggest political prisoner of the country," Dawn quoted Mirza as saying while speaking at the residence of Awami National Party leader, Shahi Syed.

    Mirza, who is affiliated to the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP), said the people of Karachi and Hyderabad should rise up and rid themselves of what he called the "kambakht" - the damned ones - Dawn said.

    Live ammunition was reportedly fired and vehicles were set on fire shortly after a local news channel aired Mirza's statement. It is unclear if those killed in the riots died of gunshot wounds or other types of injuries.

    War of words

    "Another renewed round of violence is happening as the war of words heats up between the ruling government and the MQM," Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder reported from Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

    "There has been violence over the past few weeks and all Karachi needed was another spark. It appears that the statements have been that spark."

    "The PPP and the MQM were major partners in the [governing] alliance. The MQM was backing this particular government. However, they fell out over certain differences and then decided to resign from the government," Hyder said.

    "The city of Karachi has now been barricaded, each political party which has influence in a certain area has armed its people, so the city has become a very dangerous city. But this is a political battle that is unfolding on the streets of Karachi."

    Police in the city were ordered to shoot on sight after scores were killed in street violence there last week and 1,000 additional personnel were being deployed to control the violence last Friday, a local minister said.

    The city is home to more than 18 million people, and has a long history of ethnic, religious and sectarian violence.

    A recent report from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said 1,138 people were killed in Karachi in the first six months of 2011, of whom 490 were victims of political, ethnic and sectarian violence.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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