Unidentified protesters opened "indiscriminate gunfire" in a violence-ridden neighborhood of Karachi, killing two boys, police officer Aslam Gujjar said. Police and hospital officials said eight protesters and one policeman suffered gunshot wounds and that firing was continuing.
The violence happened in the city's Chakiwara neighborhood where supporters of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto have clashed with police since Thursday morning. The protesters, angry at Bhutto's current house arrest in the eastern city of Lahore, traded fire with police who also used tear gas to try and disperse them.
A U.S. diplomat was allowed Thursday to cross the barricades and heavy police cordon surrounding the house in the eastern city of Lahore where Bhutto has been confined for two days. It is her second period of house arrest since arriving back in the country only weeks ago.
Bryan Hunt, the U.S. consul general in Lahore, emerged an hour later and said he had told Bhutto of Washington's wish for Musharraf to lift the emergency, quit as army chief and free opposition politicians and the media.
"We need to move as rapidly as possible to have free and fair elections held on time," Hunt said.
After the meeting, Bhutto told the Associated Press by telephone that the U.S. is worried about the prospects of a power vacuum in Pakistan if Musharraf were to step down.
"He came to find out whether I could work with Gen. Musharraf, and I told him that it was very difficult to work with someone who instead of taking us toward democracy took us back toward military dictatorship," she said.
Bhutto told the AP a national unity government should take over from Musharraf ahead of elections. It was the first time she has made such a call.
"I am talking to the other opposition parties to find out whether they are in a position to come together," said Bhutto. "We need to see whether we can come up with an interim government of national consensus to whom power can be handed."
A White House spokeswoman said Wednesday thatDeputy Secretary of State John Negroponte is due in Islamabad on Friday.
In an Associated Press interview Wednesday, Musharraf said he expects to quit as chief of the army by the end of November, heralding a return to civilian rule. However, he rejected Western pressure to quickly end the emergency.
However, both opposition parties and Western governments say that the vote cannot be considered free and fair unless the general quickly lifts the emergency, which many in Pakistan are equating with martial law.
Nov. 15 marks the end of the current Parliament's five-year term. Musharraf's concurrent presidential mandate also expires Thursday, though he has extended it by calling the state of emergency that has cast Pakistan into a deep political crisis.
The caretaker administration will be charged with guiding Pakistan toward the elections to be held by Jan. 9, even as the country battles spreading Islamic militancy.
The army said Thursday that helicopter and artillery strikes killed 41 followers of a pro-Taliban cleric in the northern mountain valley of Swat the day before. Officials said four troops died in militant attacks there and in the Waziristan region near the Afghan border.
The United States still counts Musharraf as a stalwart ally in its war on terror. But it wants him to share power with other moderates, such as Bhutto, to harness more political support for Pakistan's struggle against Islamic extremists while also ending military rule.
Musharraf says the main purpose of the emergency is to protect the effort against extremism from interfering judges and political turbulence.
He said rising Islamic militancy required him to stay in control of the troubled nation though left the door open for future cooperation with Bhutto if she wins the January vote.
"Emergency is in fact meant to make sure that elections are held in a peaceful manner," Musharraf said. "I take decisions in Pakistan's interest and I don't take ultimatums from anyone."
The crackdown on dissent has triggered a rapid downward spiral in his relations with Bhutto, a pro-Western secularist like himself but also a fierce political competitor.
Bhutto called Tuesday for Musharraf to leave power and joined other opposition parties in threatening to boycott the election. On Wednesday, she telephoned Nawaz Sharif, whose government was ousted in Musharraf's coup, to discuss setting up an opposition coalition, a spokesman for her Pakistan People's Party said.
Musharraf is refusing to let Sharif return from exile in Saudi Arabia before the elections.
"She talked about the need for cooperation by all political parties on a one-point agenda aimed at the restoration of the constitution, lifting of emergency and holding free and fair elections," said spokesman Farhatullah Babar.
Babar said no decisions had been taken.
He also said the makeup of the caretaker government was irrelevant so long as Musharraf remained in power.