Strike grinds Pakistan's biggest city to a halt
KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan's largest city ground to a halt Tuesday, with most residents staying off the streets after a political party called a strike to protest the deaths of at least 96 people killed in Karachi in the past week.
Businesses, schools and government offices were closed, while public buses and taxis stayed off the road. The strike, called by the city's most powerful political party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, came as police found the bodies of 10 more people.
Karachi, a teeming southern city of some 18 million people, has a long history of political, ethnic and sectarian violence, and much of the violence is blamed on gangs allegedly linked to the main political parties, including the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. The government has been unable to stop the fighting, as it also grapples with a faltering economy and a raging Islamist insurgency.
The unrest illustrates the precarious state of Pakistan's stability at a time when the U.S. wants the nuclear-armed country to step up its fight against Taliban militants who stage cross-border attacks against foreign troops in Afghanistan.
One of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement's top leaders, Farooq Sattar, claimed that many of the people killed recently were members of the party's base: Urdu-speaking descendants of people who came to Karachi from India soon after the birth of Pakistan in 1947.
"We condemn the killing of all innocent citizens, but the present wave of killing is part of a genocide of Urdu-speaking people," Sattar said during a press conference on Monday.
The bodies of 10 more people were found overnight, some of them stuffed in bloody sacks, said city police chief Saud Mirza.
The killings bring the total death toll to at least 96 in a week, according to figures provided by police and hospital officials.
The government in Sindh province plans to carry out "surgical" operations in the most violent areas of Karachi, said the provincial information minister, Sharjeel Memon.
But it is unclear what affect the operations will have. Authorities often promise to bring law and order to Karachi after spasms of violence, but the fighting has always resumed.
The recent wave of violence started after the Muttahida Qaumi Movement left the federal coalition led by the Pakistan People's Party in late June and joined the opposition. More than 300 people were killed in July alone.
There were at least 490 political, ethnic and sectarian killings in Karachi during the first half of the year, among more than 1,100 killings overall in that time period, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.