Violence surrounds political rally in Pakistan

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Violence erupted in Karachi, Pakistan as recently suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry reached the city to address a rally of supporters.

Clashes erupted in the streets between rival political factions. Members of the pro-government party, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), clashed with supporters of Chaudhry, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). There are reports of up to 34 people killed in the riots and another 120 injured. Supporters of Chaudhry accused the MQM of initiating the violence, but the MQM has denied the accusation.

Chaudhry had flown in to attend the rally in the city, but was unable to leave Karachi airport due to the violence. After spending several hours at Karachi airport, Chaudhry returned to Islamabad.

In what was considered a controversial move, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf suspended Chaudhry, March 9, 2007, on charges of misconduct. Critics say that Musharraf removed Chaudhry to put in place a Chief Justice more sympathetic to Musharraf's military-ruled government. There are reports Musharraf will put in a bid later this year to extend his rule by another five-year term and will seek legal support for his actions.

While the unrest in Karachi was taking place, President Musharaff addressed a large pro-government rally in Islamabad where approximately 80,000 people turned out. "This is a historical day... because I haven't been to any gathering where I have seen so many people in support of the government's policies," Musharraf told the crowd.

Musharraf ruled out imposing an emergency in Karachi. "There is absolutely no requirement and absolutely no environment for taking such drastic measure," he said.

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