By Griff Witte
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, May 14, 2007
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, May 13 -- Clashes between government supporters and opposition activists flared for a second day Sunday in the country's largest city, bringing the weekend death toll to about 40.
The clashes in the southern city of Karachi were prompted by a judicial crisis that has gripped the country since March 9, when the president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, suspended Pakistan's chief justice for alleged abuses of office. Since then, protesters have frequently taken to the streets to rally against what they see as an attempt by Musharraf to snuff out fledgling democratic institutions and ease his way to another term.
On Saturday, the judge, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who denies the charges against him, was scheduled to speak at a rally in Karachi. But he was prevented even from leaving the airport. The protests soon turned violent as members of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a coalition partner of Musharraf's known as MQM, exchanged fire with anti-Musharraf demonstrators.
Although the fighting Sunday was less intense than it had been on Saturday, as many as six more people were killed.
Each side sought to portray the other as the instigator. MQM leaders blamed the opposition for provoking the fight. But opposition leaders said the MQM had carried out premeditated attacks on demonstrators and allowed security forces to stand by and watch while bands of gunmen fired into the crowds.
The government deployed additional paramilitary rangers to the city Sunday, with orders to shoot any rioters on sight.
Opposition leaders said such action would inflame tensions. "We condemn this. It is taking us toward civil war," said Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for the Pakistan People's Party, a leading opposition group.
Opposition parties have called for a nationwide strike Monday to protest the handling of the crisis.
In unrelated violence Sunday, Pakistani and Afghan military forces exchanged mortar and small-arms fire as tensions along the 1,500-mile border increased. A Pakistani military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad, accused Afghan forces of "unprovoked firing" and said half a dozen Afghan soldiers had been killed. Afghan military officials denied that, but said two Afghan civilians had been killed.
Pakistan has been seeking to erect a fence along its border with Afghanistan, a move that has rankled Afghans.
Special correspondent Shahzad Khurram contributed to this report.