20,000 Soldiers, Police Patrol Karachi
KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) _ Four days of ethnic violence that left at least 23 people dead and dozens wounded ebbed today as 20,000 soldiers, police and paramilitary troops patrolled the streets of Pakistan’s largest city.
Hospital officials in the hardest hit areas of Karachi said their emergency wards were quiet for the first time since Friday, when a demonstration by a militant ethnic group spun out of control.
The People’s Refugee Movement, representing Indian Muslims who moved to mostly Muslim Pakistan in 1947 when the subcontinent was partitioned, was protesting alleged discrimination against them by Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s government.
On Monday, gunmen shot five people to death and fires were set at a bank, a supermarket and two emergency vehicles. Nearly 100 people have been wounded, authorities said.
Witnesses said dozens of masked gunmen were roaming the streets firing indiscriminately. Most people remained indoors and stores were closed Monday.
″We don’t know why they are firing,″ said Rashida Begum, who lives in central Karachi. ″It is even dangerous to peer out the window.″
Members of the Refugee Movement accused police of firing at their party workers.
An army spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said 5,000 soldiers were sent late Monday to back up an estimated 15,000 police officers and paramilitary troops already patrolling the city of 9 million.
The Refugee Movement wants recognition as a separate ethnic group, a demand Pakistan has refused.
Karachi is in Sindh province, Ms. Bhutto’s political stronghold. But while her Pakistan People’s Party is strong in the countryside, the Refugee Movement controls Karachi and other cities in the province. The two parties have been at odds for years.
Khalid Younus, a former legislator and Refugee Movement member, accused police and intelligence agencies of instigating the violence in an attempt to discredit his organization.
He said the police were acting on Ms. Bhutto’s orders, a charge her government has denied.
Police say they have arrested at least two dozen people. The Refugee Movement claims at least 250 party workers have been arrested since Friday.