Death Toll From Pakistani Violence Now 39

Multan, PAKISTAN: Pakistani protesters set fire to an effigy of President Pervez Musharraf during a demonstration in Multan, 13 May 2007, against the killing of 36 people in Karachi. Pakistan ordered extra troops into Karachi as deadly violence over the suspension of the country's chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry spilled into a second day, raising the death toll to 37. Clashes broke out 12 May 2007 between supporters of suspended chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and President Pervez Musharraf, who were due to hold rival mass rallies. AFP PHOTO/Mohammad MALIK (Photo credit should read MOHAMMAD MALIK/AFP/Getty Images)
Mohammed Malik/AFP/Getty Images
The crisis triggered by the ouster of Pakistan's top judge took an ominous and bloody ethnic turn Sunday, as the death toll from a weekend of street warfare rose to 39 and turned its volatile business capital into a city under siege.

Funeral processions were accompanied by more gunbattles and arson, and at least two people died in clashes between traditional rivals in Karachi — Pashtuns and Urdu-speakers linked to a party that backs President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

The violence marked a serious escalation in a crisis that began with Musharraf ousting the head of the supreme court on March 9 and has hardened opposition to plans for the general, a key U.S. ally, to extend his nearly eight-year rule.

It also raised the specter of a return to ethnic bloodshed in a port city of 15 million people that serves as the hub of Pakistan's fast-growing economy and even raised fears for the nation's stability.

Rallies timed for a visit by suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry on Saturday sparked gunfights and clashes between supporters and opponents of the government that left corpses in the streets.

Security forces failed to restore order Sunday, despite the deployment of armored personnel carriers and pickup trucks topped with machine guns to patrol the mostly deserted streets.

The fighting opened old wounds between Pashtuns and Urdu-speaking supporters of the pro-government Mutahida Qaumi Movement party. Opposition parties accused the MQM of initiating much of Saturday's violence, in which Pashtun supporters of Chaudhry were among the dead.

Police officer Shad Masih said a Pashtun called Saifur Rehman was fatally shot by in an eastern district, and that three others were hospitalized with gunshot wounds. Masih said police dispersed a crowd in the area using tear gas.

To the west, police reported gunmen trading shots across a road dividing Banaras Colony, an ethnic Pashtun-dominated residential area, from a mainly Urdu-speaking quarter on the other side.

Muhammad Noorani, a 24-year-old Pashtun, was hit in the head by a bullet and was pronounced dead at the city's Abbasi Hospital, doctor Liaquat Nemon said.

Police said they found the bullet-ridden body of an MQM activist who was reported missing late Sunday.

In a northern district, firefighters battled flames spreading through a row of Pashtun-owned shops after a funeral procession for an MQM activist killed the day before had passed.

Officials contacted at four hospitals across Karachi said the casualty toll had risen to 39 dead and about 150 wounded.

On Saturday, officials said a security force of 15,000 was deployed in the city. But there was no sign that they had intervened to stop the violence, and opposition parties blamed Musharraf and the MQM for the violence.

"We condemn this mayhem and we believe that the MQM could not have done it without the active support of Gen. Pervez Musharraf," said Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for the Pakistan People's Party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

"It shows that the government wanted to create a situation of civil strife to find an excuse for imposing an emergency and postponing elections," Babar said.

In his own mass rally in Islamabad late Saturday, Musharraf insisted he would not declare an emergency, and said a presidential vote by lawmakers and parliamentary elections would go ahead as planned by year's end.

He urged opposition parties to stop protests in support of the judge.

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    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.