Pakistan’s largest city paralysed after blast, riots

December 29th, 2009 - 3:21 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, Dec 29 (DPA) Commercial and other activities in Pakistan’s financial hub of Karachi were at a standstill Tuesday, as the casualty count in the overnight suicide bombing at a Shiite event rose to 33, officials said.
Rescue services worked through the night to put out fires at several markets, set by angry mobs after an attacker detonated his explosives Monday afternoon among a large procession of Shiite Muslims commemorating the prophet Imam Hussein.

“Until this morning, we have 33 dead and around 65 injured,” said Sagheer Ahmad, health minister in the southern Sindh province of which Karachi is the capital.

Authorities feared the death toll could rise as many severed limbs and body parts were received at city’s two main hospitals.

Doctors said more than 100 wounded people were brought to clinics and hospitals, including some with minor injuries caused by shrapnel.

Private television channels put the death toll as high as 40.

The provincial government announced a holiday Tuesday to mourn the killings, and appealed for calm. Offices and commercial centres remained closed throughout Karachi.

Police officials said “the situation is calm but tense”.

Angry Shiite Muslims destroyed dozens of vehicles, including police cars and ambulances, following the suicide attack that came despite the deployment of thousands of security forces to protect the annual religious processions during the holy month of Muharram.

But merchants said the market fires were sabotage and demanded the government expose the unscrupulous elements behind it.

“These fires have caused damage of more than 2.5 billion rupees ($30 million) and it will take years to rehabilitate the markets,” Zakaria Usman, vice-president of Pakistan’s traders group, told the Geo News television channel.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik also doubted that the arson attacks were carried out by enraged Shiite Muslims, arguing that fires started at multiple locations within minutes.

“It appears to be a planned scheme,” he told reporters in Karachi.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the bombing. Malik blamed a “triangular syndicate” of Taliban, Al Qaeda and Sunni militant groups for the carnage.

Monday’s suicide attack was the latest in a series of bombings that began in October, when the military launched a major offensive in the Taliban heartland of South Waziristan near the Afghan border.

More than 550 people have been reported killed in the offensive, mostly in the restive North-West Frontier Province, located near the tribal badlands.

The assault on the procession in Karachi drew condemnation from all sects and political parties, with leaders describing it as an attempt to pitch Shiites against Sunnis.

Shiite Muslims account for 20 percent of Pakistan’s population of nearly 170 million.

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