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KARACHI, April 27: A contingent of paramilitary Rangers raided an election office of the Pakistan Peoples Party in Lyari and surrounded and searched the houses of Uzair Jan Baloch, who heads the Karachi City Alliance and wields a great deal of influence in the old city areas, and his aides early Saturday morning, police and eyewitnesses said.

While Rangers officials remained tight-lipped about the exercise, the PPP leadership said the move was part of a ‘well thought-out plan’ to keep all the liberal forces out of the electoral process through different means.

“The Rangers entered the Singu Lane area at around 5am, raided the house of Sardar Uzair Jan Baloch and searched the house for a long time in a way that they ransacked many household items,” said Rasheed Baloch who represents the KCA chief.

He said the paramilitary soldiers raided the house when Mr Baloch was not there, but the rest of his family was there.

Situated near the house, a PPP election office in Singu Lane was raided by the Rangers, said Zafar Baloch, a former PPP leader. He called the raid unwarranted as the place was there to run the election campaign for the candidates of NA-248 and three provincial assembly seats (PS-109, PS-110 and PS-111).

He claimed that computers, cameras and other equipment kept in the election cell were damaged during the raid. “They took away some equipment as well,” he claimed.

Syed Najmi Alam, Karachi PPP general secretary and party’s chief campaigner for the elections in the city, claimed that it was part of a ‘well thought-out plan’ to keep all the liberal forces out of the electoral process through different means.

“The terrorists are already attacking us and killing our people to keep the liberal forces away from elections. On the other hand, such tactics in which our election cells are being raided unwarrantedly would only benefit the agenda of our enemies.”“It seems that there is a plan to keep all the liberal forces at bay, which is evident from the attacks on PPP, MQM and ANP candidates and workers.”

He recalled that a week ago peaceful party workers, who were just returning home from a party meeting in the Golimar area, had been detained. “We protest against it.”Mr Baloch said during the search operation, no resistance had been offered to the paramilitary soldiers.

“We have never done anything illegal and did nothing when they were searching the Sardar’s house and the election cell,” he said.

Sources said the Rangers also raided the houses of some aides of Mr Uzair, including Baba Ladla, however, it was yet to be confirmed whether they arrested any prominent individuals.

Eyewitnesses, however, said after the prolonged search operation when the Rangers returned, people took to the streets in different parts of Lyari and protested.

They set bonfires by burning tyres and chanted slogans against the operation.

Shops and markets in parts of Lyari and adjacent areas remained closed during the day and reopened at the nod of the dominant group.

The KCA leaders said they first planned to stage a sit-in against the search operations like they did two days ago to protest against the recent killings in Lyari. While the police had described the victims as kidnappers the PPP leadership said they were their activists and blamed the police and for ‘staging a fake encounter’.

“We dropped the idea to go for a sit-in at a time when the city was mourning the death of 11 workers of the Awami National Party (ANP),” said a party activist.

Zafar Baloch said the three provincial assembly candidates, Javed Nagori, Sania Naz and Adnan Baloch, had gone to the Chakiwara police station to lodge a complaint against the damage caused during the raids by the Rangers, but the police refused to register a case.

The Chakiwara police did not confirm the claim.

Rangers version

A spokesman for the Pakistan Rangers, Sindh, said the Rangers conducted search operations in Kehkashan Society, Salar Goth and Lyari and apprehended nine ‘criminals’ besides recovering sizable quantity of weapons and ammunition.

“The Rangers also launched targeted raids at New Karachi, Shershah, Ship Owners Chowrangi, Ranchhore Lines, Mominabad and Gulzar-i-Hijri. During these raids, 10 criminals were apprehended, 28 weapons were recovered with 225 rounds,” said the spokesman.