Death Toll in Pakistani Ethnic Violence Climbs to 18
KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) _ Gunmen shot five people to death and set fire to a bank branch and an ambulance Monday in the fourth day of ethnic violence that officials say has killed at least 18 and injured 60.
The violence began Friday when members of the militant People’s Refugee Movement, representing Indian Muslims who moved to Pakistan in 1947, held a protest march against Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
About 3,000 demonstrators accused Ms. Bhutto’s government of discriminating against them.
Ms. Bhutto’s liberal Pakistan People’s Party and the Refugee Movement are political rivals in southern Sindh province. Ms. Bhutto’s party is strong in the countryside, but the Refugee Movement controls the province’s cities, including Karachi, the country’s largest city with 9 million people.
The Refugee Movement is demanding recognition as Pakistan’s fifth ethnic group. Successive governments have refused.
Soldiers in tanks and armored personnel carriers were called in Monday to patrol central Karachi, one of the hardest hit areas.
An army spokesman, who can’t be identified, said the troops were providing backup to thousands of police and paramilitary troops already on the streets.
Soldiers escorted firefighters to a supermarket fire burning out of control in Liaqatabad in central Karachi. Gunmen had stopped the firefighters from reaching the blaze.
Witnesses said dozens of masked gunmen were roaming the streets firing indiscriminately. Most people remained indoors and none of the shops in the area were open.
″We don’t know why they are firing. It is even dangerous to peer out the window,″ said Rashida Begum, who lives in central Karachi.
Members of the Refugee Movement accused police of firing at their party workers.
″It’s like a civil war. Rangers and police firing at unarmed civilians,″ said Mohammed Hussain, a wounded boy taken to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital in Karachi.
One ambulance was set on fire, as well as a mobile emergency unit, police said. An ambulance driver was hit in the leg with a bullet.
Police said they had arrested about 24 people. The Refugee Movement claimed at least 250 party workers had been arrested since Friday.
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.