A view of burning buses while a paramilitary troop talks on the phone during the strike called by MQM in Karachi on Thursday. – Photo by APP

KARACHI: After 18 hours of violence which claimed 15 lives, life returned to normality on Thursday evening following Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussain’s appeal to his followers to ‘end their peaceful protest’ and a video apology by Senior Sindh Minister Dr Zulfikar Mirza for his remarks in which he heaped scorn on Urdu-speaking community and Mr Hussain.

The violence was triggered by Mr Mirza’s remarks late on Wednesday night.

The city observed a complete shutdown amid gunfire and arson attacks in almost every district of the metropolis with police and paramilitary Sindh Rangers personnel remaining helpless. Although the authorities claimed to have arrested more than 250 ‘miscreants and recovered heavy arms’, they did not offer any detail about their political affiliation.

An official of Sindh Rangers and a police constable were among the dead, although most of other deceased people, including a woman, were passersby who were hit by indiscriminate and heavy firing.

The intensity of violence started declining in the second half of the day, but the guns fell silent only after the MQM chief in a statement appealed to people to ‘end their peaceful demonstrations against the racial and highly bigoted language’ used by Dr Mirza.

“A protest has been registered across the country over the objectionable language against the children of the founders of the country,” said the statement issued from the MQM secretariat in London. Mr Hussain “appealed to the people to end their protests and return to their homes in a peaceful manner. He commended and thanked journalists and the media for broadcasting reports based on facts.”

Within an hour after TV channels telecast the statement, shops and fuel stations started reopening and the All Karachi Tajir Ittehad – a platform that represents more than 500 retail and wholesale markets – announced that there would be regular business for Friday.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik later acknowledged ‘contact between the government and the MQM leadership’ that brought the fresh wave of violence to an end.

“I would definitely appreciate the role of Altaf Hussain for the restoration of peace in Karachi. We still want to move forward with the MQM and have conveyed such spirit to their leaders,” he told reporters after arriving in the city from Islamabad.

As the interior minister, along with the Sindh chief minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah, was presiding over a meeting with police and Sindh Rangers authorities to review the city’s law and order, television channels broadcasted a video message of Dr Zulfikar Mirza apologising for his remarks.

“I did not mean to hurt anyone but still if someone felt hurt by my statement, I apologise for that,” he said in a brief and low-quality video message making eye-contact with the camera.

The city descended into violence late on Wednesday after Dr Mirza addressed newsmen at Mardan House, the residence of Awami National Party leader Shahi Syed, at a dinner held to celebrate the revival of commissionrate system in Sindh with coalition partners and other political parties.Dr Mirza’s blunt remarks also took the ANP by surprise and forced its leaders to explain their position.

“It was a personal opinion of the Sindh senior minister which had nothing to do with the ANP, its workers and ideology,” said an ANP spokesman. “A group of journalists kept on asking questions which encouraged Dr Zulfikar Mirza to use such uncivilised and harsh words, which do not represent ANP’s thought and ideology. The ANP respects people of all ethnic backgrounds and believes in harmony and dialogue.”

In several other cities and towns in Sindh, MQM activists and supporters took out processions and held demonstrations in protest against Dr Mirza’s remarks.

In Hyderabad, a man was killed and 14 others, three of them women, were injured when some people fired into the air in different localities on Wednesday night and Thursday.

MQM activists brought out processions, burnt tyres and erected barricades on roads and burnt effigies of Dr Mirza.

Protests were also held in Thatta, Sukkur, Rohri, Nawabshah, Dadu, Badin, Mirpurkhas, Khairpur, Shikarpur, Sanghar, Shahdadpur and Tando Adam.

MQM supporters also held protests in Lahore, Multan and Rawalpindi.

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