Pakistan crisis stokes clashes

Published May 14, 2007

KARACHI, Pakistan - Rival ethnic groups fought gunbattles in this hub of economic growth Sunday, an ominous turn in a political crisis that started with the ouster of Pakistan's top judge. The death toll from a weekend of fighting rose to 41.

Funeral processions were accompanied by gunfights between ethnic Pashtuns and the Mohajirs, who support a progovernment party. Gunmen fired on ambulances, killing at least one driver, and the bullet-ridden bodies of some victims were found tied and blindfolded.

The fighting in Karachi has marked a serious escalation in a crisis that began when President Gen. Pervez Musharraf suspended the independent-minded Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry on March 9. It has raised the specter of a return to ethnic bloodshed in a port city of 15-million people that has been the center of Pakistan's fast-growing economy.

The government said it deployed 15, 000 security forces to Karachi. Opposition parties blamed Musharraf and his supporters in the Mutahida Qaumi Movement party of starting the violence.

The Karachi-based MQM party draws its main support from the Mohajirs. The party emerged in the 1980s when Mohajir resentment of Pashtun control of businesses and public transport boiled over into violence that killed hundreds.