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Quetta shutdown after Bugti's killing

Balochistan's capital observed a shutdown, amid sporadic violence, as a strike was called to protest the killing of powerful politician Bugti.

india Updated: Aug 28, 2006 14:37 IST

Balochistan's capital on Monday observed a shutdown, amid sporadic violence, as a strike was called to protest and mourn the killing of powerful local politician Nawab Akbar Bugti, whose weekend slaying sparked deadly violence and a curfew.

All businesses were closed in Quetta amid the province-wide strike called by an alliance of four nationalist parties and a heavy deployment of police and paramilitary troops.

Witnesses from different parts of the city said pro-Bugti protestors were burning tyres and blocking roads.

Reports from other towns - such as Kalat, Naushki and Khuzdar - also spoke of strikes with sporadic incidents of violence and attacks on public and private properties.

Quetta police said at least three people, including a police official, were killed and 12 injured Sunday in the restive southwestern province.

At least 20 university buses and billboards in Quetta were also torched, two banks vandalised, and several government buildings as well as houses of officials attacked with gunfire.

Bugti was seen as the kingpin in a growing Baloch nationalist insurgency, and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had refused to bow to demands for greater provincial autonomy for the mineral-rich province.

Information Minister Muhammad Ali Durrani told reporters that Bugti, 82, was killed on Saturday when he and his commanders were holed up in a cave in the Kohlu district bordering Iran and Afghanistan.

Durrani said shots fired on a military helicopter prompted an attack on a cave and during the exchange of fire the roof of the cave collapsed, killing several people. He denied Bugti was the target of the attack.

No independent account was available of the circumstances that led to the death of Bugti, also called the "old lion".

He had served as the governor and chief minister in the late 1970s and 1989, respectively, of Balochistan, the largest of Pakistan's four provinces.

Private media had earlier said in reports quoting official sources that intelligence and security forces tracked down Bugti by his satellite phones, which they said the veteran politician had been using frequently for contacts with relatives and the media.

According to local media, up to 60 separatists were killed in the incident while security forces suffered at least 25 casualties - mostly commandos - from gunfire out of the cave where the insurgents were hiding.

In a nationally televised speech July 20, Musharraf had named Bugti as the chief troublemaker in the province and promised to restore peace and order to the area.

The elimination or arrest of Bugti was regarded thereafter as imminent with the government bringing back thousands of tribesmen that had left the Dera Bugti region several years ago under pressure from Bugti.

On Friday, the authorities also helped organise a meeting that drew thousands of tribesmen to Bugti's hometown of Sui, which is also the source of about 25 percent of Pakistan's gas supplies.

The gathering had condemned Bugti's "reign of terror". The meeting also produced an announcement that Bugti's ancestral properties and homes would be confiscated.

The current turmoil began in January 2005 when a woman doctor in Sui was allegedly raped by security personnel stationed there.

Bugti had demanded action against the suspected army captain, but Musharraf had insisted on the latter's innocence.

Attacks on gas and power installations as well as on military targets have been rampant since then with the separatist Baloch Liberation Army taking responsibility.

The death of Bugti has attracted widespread condemnation from most political parties. Mainstream parties have also expressed solidarity with the strike and protests of his death.