Karachi, May 12 (AP): Supporters and opponents of President Pervez Musharraf turned Pakistan’s largest city into a battleground today, trading gunfire that left 27 people dead and wrecked plans for a major Opposition rally.
The violence was the worst to emerge from a political crisis that Musharraf provoked by ousting the head of the Pakistan Supreme Court.
Suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry today flew to Karachi for what was billed as the largest in two months of rallies by lawyers and Opposition parties. The protesters have been calling for Chaudhry’s reinstatement and Musharraf’s resignation.
But a pro-government party responded with its own show of strength, prompting battles and rioting.
The judge never made it beyond the airport, with nearby streets blocked by shipping containers and trucks and at least five activists lying dead from gunshot wounds. Chaudhry took an evening flight back to Islamabad.
Musharraf, speaking ahead of his own late-evening rally in the capital, urged the nation to remain united and peaceful. He ruled out calling a state of emergency.
In Karachi, Opposition activists accused the pro-government Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) of attacking them with batons and gunfire as they attempted to greet the judge at the airport.
MQM supporters were seen calling for ammunition and firing from buildings, reportedly at supporters of the Pakistan People’s Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami. Opposition supporters were firing back.
Men brandishing rifles and handguns prowled the streets against a backdrop of burning cars and buses. Doctors at Karachi’s four main hospitals said 27 people were dead and over 100 injured, many of them from gunshot wounds. A security official, too, counted 27 dead.
Critics accuse Musharraf of ousting the independent-minded Chaudhry to head off legal challenges to his plan to seek a new five-year term. The government says the judge had abused his office.