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Countrywide Shutdown: Outrage Over Karachi Killings


Dawn Newspaper Report

ISLAMABAD, May 14: A sense of anger and grief was more than evident on the streets across the country on Monday, as most businesses and shops from Khyber to Karachi remained closed. In many cities and towns, public transport remained off the road, bringing normal life to a halt on what was supposed to be the first working day of the week.

The strike was observed on a call given by the combined opposition in protest against mayhem in Karachi on Saturday when hundreds of armed men took control of the streets and Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry and his lawyers were prevented from leaving the airport to attend a bar association function in downtown Karachi.

The nationwide shutdown was on a scale not seen for many years. So widespread and effective was the response to the opposition’s call that even traders in Islamabad, who ignored such pleas in the past, kept their businesses shut throughout the day. The shutdown in adjoining Rawalpindi was more comprehensive, with even smaller bazaars remaining closed.

Reeling under the after-effects of Saturday’s bloodbath, Karachi also observed a complete strike and witnessed more bloodshed when another four people were killed, taking the death toll in the ongoing violence to 46.

Two of those killed, reportedly belonging to Pakistan People’s Party, were gunned down when a contingent of Rangers, who have been empowered to shoot on sight anyone involved in rioting, opened fire to disperse protesters in the Lyari area.

Residents said a large number of people had taken to the street in protest when a police contingent forced shopkeepers to pull up their shutters. They said a Rangers’ party reached the area and opened fire on the protesters.

However, a Rangers spokesman categorically denied involvement of their personnel and attributed the killings to the Lyari gang war.

All commercial and shopping centres, markets, showrooms and shops were closed and public transport remained off the roads. The entire city wore a deserted look throughout the day.

Life crawled back to normalcy in the evening, though scattered incidents of violence were reported from certain violence-prone localities in the downtown and western district.

A few petrol pumps and gas stations resumed their business late in the evening, but most of them preferred to keep them covered with marquees for the third consecutive day.

Hyderabad and most other cities and towns in the interior of Sindh also remained completely shut. Tharparkar, the hometown of Sindh Chief Minister Arbab Ghulam Rahim, and a couple of other places ignored the strike call.

The offices of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement in several towns faced protesters’ ire and were ransacked.

There was almost a complete business shutdown in Lahore and also in most other cities and towns of Punjab. Lawyers boycotted court proceedings and took out processions. They were supported by political parties, NGOs and the public.In Lahore, the wholesale markets wore a deserted look and traffic was thin. A large number of lawyers, political and human rights activists rallied on The Mall in sweltering heat to protest against Karachi killings.

They demanded registration of murder cases against President Gen Pervez Musharraf and MQM chief Altaf Hussain. The public also joined the rally.

“I am here to mourn the deaths,” said Nisar Sheikh. “It has happened to the people in Karachi (today), it can happen to us tomorrow. Everybody knows who is behind the killings, and everybody knows nothing would be done to take the culprits to task.”

The strike call received a positive response also in the NWFP and Balochistan. In Peshawar and Quetta, protest rallies were taken out. Even the small town of Chaman, situated along the Pakistan-Afghan border, saw a shutdown.

Another feature of Monday’s strike was that it was largely peaceful, with Karachi and a couple of other places being the exceptions.

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