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Pak erupts in deadly sectarian clashes

Peshawar, April 7 (AP): Gunmen opened fire on Shias in a remote town in northwestern Pakistan, triggering gunbattles between majority Sunni and minority Shias that left at least 40 people dead and 43 wounded, officials said today.

The trouble began yesterday when unidentified people began shooting at Shias near their mosque in Parachinar, about 250 km southwest of Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier province bordering Afghanistan.

Some of the Shias blamed rival Sunnis for the violence, and burned down Sunni-owned shops and homes. The ensuing riots left at least 40 people dead, said an official on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

“Security forces found several charred bodies from some homes in Parachinar,” the official said. However, he declined to give a breakdown of how many Sunnis and Shias died in the violence, but added that the residents also attacked troops in the area.

Arbab Mohammed Arif Khan, secretary for law and order in Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal regions, confirmed the death toll, and said the local government has imposed a round-the-clock curfew in the town to control the situation.

“People from both sides damaged each other’s property yesterday and today, and sporadic clashes are still continuing there,” he said, adding that officials were still investigating to determine what sparked the riots.

Khan said they were seeking help from clerics from the Shia and Sunni sects to control the situation. Residents said tension had been high in the town in the past several days when some Shias briefly clashed with participants of a Sunni rally celebrating the anniversary of the birth of Prophet Mohammad.

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