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Gunmen kill 25 in Karachi as Pakistanis head to polls

Police investigate possible links to political parties

Women cast their ballots in an election in Karachi, Pakistan, to replace a lawmaker who was killed in August. Women cast their ballots in an election in Karachi, Pakistan, to replace a lawmaker who was killed in August. (Asif Hassan/ AFP/ Getty Images)
By Ashraf Khan
Associated Press / October 18, 2010

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KARACHI — Gunmen killed at least 25 people in Karachi in 24 hours, raising tensions in Pakistan’s largest city as voters cast ballots yesterday to replace a provincial lawmaker killed in August.

Police said they were still investigating the motives behind the shootings, but many “target killings’’ in Karachi have been linked to gangs controlled by the city’s main political parties, which have been feuding for much of the past 20 years.

“We cannot say whether all the killings were politically motivated or some gangs were involved because the killings took place in different parts of the city and were not confined to the area where the elections were being held,’’ said Karachi’s police chief, Fayyza Leghari.

The two parties most linked to violence in Karachi, the Muttahida Quami Movement and the Awami National Party, have their electoral bases in different ethnic groups that make up a large chunk of the city’s population.

The Muttahida Quami Movement says it represents the Urdu-speaking descendants of people who came to Karachi from India soon after the birth of Pakistan in 1947. It is secular and speaks out against the so-called Talibanization of the city, a jab at the Awami National Party, which represents ethnic Pashtuns from the Taliban heartland in the northwest.

Raza Haider, the member of the provincial assembly who was gunned down in August, was a senior member of Muttahida Quami. After the shooting, the movement accused the Awami National Party of supporting Islamist militants suspected of being behind the murder — an allegation denied by the party.

Both parties were competing for Haider’s vacant seat, but the Awami National Party said Saturday that it would boycott the election, saying the rival party would rig the vote. The shootings began around the time Awami National made its announcement.

At least 25 people had been gunned down in Karachi since Saturday evening, Zulfiqar Mirza, home minister of Sindh Province, said yesterday. Karachi is the capital of the province. He called on party leaders to come forward to “help us turn Karachi back into the city of light and peace.’’

“If someone has a complaint, it should not be settled on the street,’’ Mirza said. “It is disappointing that we are shedding our priceless blood with our own hands.’’

The dead include members of a broad range of ethnic groups, he said.

Haider Abbas Rizvi, a senior Muttahida Quami leader and member of Parliament, accused the Awami National Party of being behind the shootings, saying “19 of our workers and supporters have been killed so far.’’

Senior Awami Party member Amin Khattak denied the accusation, saying, “I think that this blame game should be stopped.’’

Leghari, the police chief, said at least three of the killings did not seem politically motivated.

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