Karachi, Pakistan shut down by strike

Monday, May 14, 2007

After two days of violence in Karachi, Pakistan that left 41 killed and at least 150 injured, a general strike has been called in the city. The violence erupted as suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry reached the city to address a rally of supporters on Saturday.

Shops are closed and traffic is very limited after opposition leaders called for a nationwide strike. Officials said the strike is being observed across southern Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital. The capitals of Pakistan's other three provinces, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta are also seeing strikes.

"There is a complete strike in Karachi," said Azhar Farooqi, the city police chief. "The city is totally paralysed. Shops are closed and very little public transport is on the roads. People are scared," he told Reuters.

"Today's strike is a referendum against [President] Musharraf, and we think he should step down as soon as possible," said Ameerul Azeem, a spokesperson for a coalition of religious opposition parties.

Police have been given the authority to shoot rioters on sight. Public gatherings of more than five people have been banned.

Police were on the sidelines as pro-government and opposition groups clashed over the weekend. The violence this weekend was some of the worst since Pervez Musharraf took power in 1999.