May 13, 2007

Karachi in flames as Mush woes worsen

There was blood and fire on the streets of Pakistan's biggest city, Karachi, on Saturday as the political crisis over the suspension of Supreme Court chief justice Ifthikar Mohammed Chaudhry by President Pervez Musharraf turned into gunbattles between rival factions, leaving 30 people dead, some 100 injured and hundreds of vehicles and shops burnt.

Rioting and looting began as Chaudhry arrived to address the 100th anniversary of the Sindh High Court Bar and the pro-government Muttahida Qaumi Movement staged a counter-rally to oppose the judge.

The crisis coincides with the run-up to a general election and an attempt by Musharraf to be re-elected president. Musharraf, who has refused to shed the uniform despite several promises, wants to be re-elected by the national and provincial assemblies before these are dissolved for general election later in the year. His main motive in seeking the removal of Chaudhry appears to be to have a more pliable man in place in case of a constitutional challenge to his plans.

Saturday had been declared a public holiday in Karachi because of the rallies. But MQM decided to hold its demonstration and about 2,500 MQM activists surrounded the High Court and beat several lawyers trying to get in. MQM workers also gathered outside the airport and placed obstacles on the roads to prevent Chaudhry's supporters from reaching there.

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