Strikes called by opposition parties brought Karachi and other cities to a standstill Monday as gunmen killed a top court official in continued violence over the suspension of Pakistan’s top judge.
Shops and schools were closed and most public transport remained off the streets in Karachi, a southern commercial hub where nearly 40 people were killed at the weekend in clashes between rival political supporters.
The violence erupted in the port city on Saturday after pro-government parties blocked a public rally by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry following his suspension on March 9 by President Pervez Musharraf.
“Karachi is completely shut down and at least three-quarters of all businesses have closed across the rest of the country,” a senior government official monitoring the strike told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Authorities in Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest metropolis with a population of more than 12 million people, said in a statement they had declared a public holiday to mourn the recent deaths.
Sporadic unrest spilled into a third day in several parts of the city as angry protesters fired in the air, burnt tyres and blocked roads overnight, witnesses said.
Police said they found the bullet-riddled body of a man in a bloodstained sack Monday but there were no other reports of casualties.
Police fired tear gas shells after supporters of former premier Benazir Bhutto, chanting anti-Musharraf slogans, pelted security forces with stones and fired in the air, police said.
“Protesters resorted to aerial firing and in return we have fired tear gas to disperse the mob,” police official Fareed Jan told AFP.
No one was injured, he said adding that the “situation is under control.”
Troops were ordered to shoot rioters on sight in Karachi. Authorities also banned gatherings of more than five people in the city to prevent further trouble.
Sindh province interior secretary Brigadier Ghulam Muhammad Muhtaram said authorities intended to expel some opposition leaders from the city, although names have not been finalised.
Most of the eastern city of Lahore was also shut down by the strike while lawyers boycotted courts, witnesses said.
Around 2,500 protesters in Lahore hanged and burned effigies of Musharraf and of Altaf Hussain, the exiled leader of the pro-Musharraf Muttahida Qaumi Movement which was involved in the Karachi clashes.
The strike also paralysed North West Frontier Province bordering
Afghanistan and 2,000 demonstrators rallied in the provincial capital Peshawar, witnesses and officials said.
In Islamabad, gunmen broke into the house of Syed Hamad Raza, the deputy registrar of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, and shot him dead early Monday in what his family said was a killing linked to his role at the court.
His brother Khalid Ali Shah dismissed initial police reports he was killed by robbers. “It was a targeted killing, it was not a robbery… We need justice,” he said.
Chaudhry visited the dead man’s relatives on Monday.
Security officials said Chaudhry had brought Raza to Islamabad with him from the southwestern city of Quetta after he was appointed to lead the Supreme Court in 2005.
Meanwhile a Supreme Court hearing into misconduct charges against Chaudhry was postponed shortly after it began when one judge stepped down, suggesting there could be a risk of bias due to “seniority issues.”
Officials said the hearing would resume on Tuesday without Justice Falak Sher.
Opponents say Musharraf dismissed the chief justice to ensure a pliant judiciary in case of legal challenges against his intention to seek another five-year term as president-in-uniform before November 16 from the outgoing parliament, which is stacked with his supporters.