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27 Killed, Several Wounded in Pakistan Political Violence


At least 27 people have been killed in clashes between pro- and anti-government activists in Pakistan's largest city, Karachi. VOA correspondent Benjamin Sand reports from Islamabad that the violence came in a city where more than 15,000 security officers were deployed to keep order.

Police and witnesses in the southern port city of Karachi reported the exchanges of gunfire and other violence began well before a scheduled anti-government rally.

As opposition groups attempted to gather to support the country's suspended chief justice, Iftakhar Chaudhry, thousands of pro-government activists also massed for counter protests.

Pakistani television showed people marching through Karachi streets carrying handguns, assault rifles and flags of a pro-government party. Scores of vehicles were set on fire.

Talat Hussain is the news director for Pakistan's Aaj Television network. He says after showing the footage of armed activists, the network's office in Karachi came under attack from heavily armed pro-government gunmen.

"This is like a battlefield.," he said, adding that "There is no law enforcement in sight and bullets are flying all around."

Chaudhry arrived at Karachi's airport Saturday and had been scheduled to address supporters. But his trip into the city was delayed by violence in neighborhoods near the airport.

Chaudhry's defense lawyer, Tariq Mahmood says the local government closed major roads throughout the city and was clearly trying to disrupt the judge's public address.

"This is disturbing us and it is alarming and it should not have been there," he said.

Officials say more than 15,000 police and para-military forces were deployed throughout the city.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf suspended Chaudhry on March 9 over unspecified allegations that he abused his authority.

The move sparked protests around the country, many organized by the country's legal community and opposition political parties.

Tariq Mahmood says the military-backed president should either reinstate the popular judge or resign from office.

"The people are saying enough is enough. There should not be any more military rule and the military should go back to the barracks," he said.

Government critics say General Musharraf removed the judge to gain control over the country's increasingly independent judiciary ahead of national elections expected later this year.

Musharraf is expected to seek another five-year presidential term while also remaining the country's military chief, a move his critics say is unconstitutional and subject to challenge in the country's high court.

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