7 Dead After Pro-Musharraf Lawyers Clash With Opponents in Pakistan

By Ashraf Khan
Associated Press
Thursday, April 10, 2008

KARACHI, Pakistan, April 9 -- Clashes between government opponents and supporters set off rioting in Pakistan's largest city Wednesday, leaving seven people dead in the worst outburst of political violence since a new government took office March 25.

A building near Karachi's courts was set ablaze, and five charred bodies were found inside, said police officer Syed Sulaiman. Two people died of gunshot wounds, including a paramedic whose ambulance came under fire while crew members were trying to help the injured.

The trouble began when a group of lawyers staged a rally in downtown Karachi to protest an assault the previous day on a former cabinet member aligned with President Pervez Musharraf. The protesters said they came under attack by lawyers aligned with the new coalition government, which has vowed to curb Musharraf's powers.

It was not immediately clear how the trouble spread or who was responsible for the arson and shooting, which occurred mainly in a stronghold of the pro-Musharraf Muttahida Quami Movement party.

The violence Wednesday is likely to test the stability of Pakistan's new government, which took office after routing Musharraf's allies in February parliamentary elections. The government is considering how to reduce the U.S.-allied president's authority and cement Pakistan's return to democracy after eight years of military rule.

It was also the second time that violence tarnished a lawyers' movement that led months of protests against Musharraf, galvanizing his opponents and contributing to the defeat of his allies in the elections.

On Tuesday, protesters -- including black-suited lawyers -- besieged former cabinet minister Sher Afgan Niazi, beating him as he emerged from his office. Police hurried Niazi into an ambulance, which was stoned and had its ignition key stolen, forcing security forces to push it from the scene.

Lawyers allied with the Muttahida Quami Movement were protesting the assault on Niazi when the violence erupted in Karachi. "Our lawyers were staging a peaceful demonstration when the so-called lawyers of the Karachi Bar Association attacked our lawyers," party leader Hyder Rizvi said.

At least eight people were injured in the initial brawl, police officer Tahir Naveed said. A 7-year-old child was being treated for a bullet wound to the head, according to Farhan Jokhio, a doctor at a city hospital.

Dozens of cars and buses were torched. Paramilitary forces in body armor and security officers with automatic weapons patrolled the streets. Vendors shuttered shops, and there was little traffic.

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