KARACHI, May 12: At least 34 people were killed and over 140 others injured as a major portion of Sharea Faisal turned into a battlefield on Saturday when rival political groups clashed with each other soon after the arrival of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, who remained confined to the lounge of the airport throughout the day and returned to Islamabad without addressing a lawyers’ convention on the premises of the Sindh High Court.
The utter failure of the Sindh government and the law-enforcers to maintain law and order made the city hostage to political workers. However, Adviser to the Sindh Chief Minister on Home Affairs Waseem Akhtar blamed the chief justice for a breakdown in law and order and deaths in incidents of violence.
Journalists staged a sit-in at the airport in protest against manhandling of newsmen and camerapersons at various troubled spots by political workers and against an armed attack on local Aaj TV channel. Many camerapersons were injured and their expensive cameras smashed while they were beaten up.
The main artery Sharea Faisal, which was to be used by procession of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, was made completely inaccessible to motorists as all of its intersections were blocked by large containers, trucks and buses with tyres already deflated.
The Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy and other opposition parties, besides city lawyers, planned to accord a warm welcome to the Chief Justice at the airport, but the Muttahida Qaumi Movement announced that it would organise a rally at the Tibet Centre on M.A. Jinnah Road against what it described as political jugglers who wanted to politicise the visit of the Chief Justice.
Despite the heavy deployment of law-enforcement agencies across the city as claimed by the police, they suddenly disappeared from the troubled spots allowing the rival groups to trade fire with each other, resulting in deaths and injuries to dozens of people.
The Sindh police and other law-enforcement agencies appeared completely helpless in controlling the situation despite the fact that the Sindh government had ensured heavy deployment of 16,000 law-enforcers.
DIG Operations Mushtaq Shah said that 2,000 additional police personnel were deployed along Sharea Faisal. “Police acted as a buffer between the rival groups; otherwise the casualties would have been much higher,” he added.
He said it was impossible for police to make any arrest in mobs.
Police were also attacked by mourners at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre when they came after the arrival of seven bodies at the hospital. The relatives and political parties’ workers thronged the hospital after they came to know about the bodies. No law enforcement agencies were deployed there to maintain peace.
The day broke with a strike-like situation with public transport completely off the roads. As the Sindh government announced a local holiday for Saturday the previous night, most of the people did not know about it and many were seen stranded at various bus-stops.
Sporadic incidents of violence started early in the morning as a man, belonging to a religious group, was gunned down in Landhi while people preparing to receive the Chief Justice were fired upon. Similarly, three policemen and seven other people were wounded in clashes between rival political party workers at Abdullah College and two other policemen were wounded in SITE.
The clashes gained intensity soon after the arrival of the Chief Justice at noon and Sharea Faisal turned into a battlefield. In the first clash between two rival groups in front of the Drigh Railway Station, as many as 35 vehicles, including motorcycles, were set on fire.
Another fierce clash between two groups took place at Kalaboard area in Malir on Sharea Faisal where several people suffered bullet wounds and many of them died on the spot. A driver of an Edhi ambulance also lost his life in the crossfire. Another clash between two gun-totting groups occurred near the Baloch Colony flyover on Sharea Faisal where many people suffered injuries and deaths.
As the entire artery was made inaccessible, ambulances were also unable to use the thoroughfare, which is the only way from the troubled spots to the Jinnah Hospital. The dead and injured remained lying at the spots for hours as ambulances found it difficult to reach there.
At all of the troubled spots, the law-enforcers disappeared leaving the innocent people at the mercy of gun-wielding youths firing straight on their opponents. Some innocent people were caught in crossfire and wounded.
At least 19 dead were shifted to the JPMC, five to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital and two were moved to the Civil Hospital. Besides, police said four bodies and 12 wounded people were shifted to the Liaquat National Hospital where two of the injured later died. Moreover, the police shifted bodies of two unknown victims to the Steel Town Hospital.
Dr Seemin Jamali, deputy director of the JPMC, told Dawn that 70 wounded people were brought to the hospital’s emergency centre. “Only 25 people with critical bullet wounds have been admitted to the hospital as the slightly injured people have been discharged.”
Police said participants of the opposition rally attempted to set fire to at least four petrol pumps on Sharea Faisal following the incidents of firing by the rivals.
They said that two of the pumps, which were already closed, caught fire, but the staff promptly extinguished the blaze.
The police said unruly participants also ransacked an office of Madadgar Police 15 in Landhi.
Witnesses said PPP workers from Lyari attacked a police kiosk at Aath Chowk. They said the PPP men were fired upon by a group of people who fled the scene and later the PPP men ransacked the kiosk.
Meanwhile, rangers were deployed in parts of the city late on Saturday night. They took positions at important thoroughfares and intersections.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) said in a statement that its 10 activists were among those who lost their lives on Saturday while PPP said its 15 party workers were killed in attacks on the rally.