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15 killed as violence grips Sindh after PPP leader's remarks

world Updated: Jul 14, 2011 22:17 IST

Pakistan's southern province of Sindh, including its capital Karachi, plunged into fresh violence, leaving at least 15 people dead and 21 injured, after senior minister Zulfikar Mirza of PPP made disparaging remarks against the MQM and its leader Altaf Hussain.

The violent protests and disturbances started late last night soon after television channels aired remarks by a senior minister of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, Zulfiqar Mirza.

Police and rescue officials said that 15 people were killed and 21 injured in incidents of firing in many parts of the city. Protesters also set ablaze some 40 vehicles, including 10 buses at one terminal in Sakhi Hasan.

At a gathering last night, Mirza targetted Hussain, unleashing yet another rant against him – this time taking it up a notch by referring to the leader of a breakaway MQM-Haqiqi as "the true leader of muhajirs".

Mirza said: "This province was here for centuries before you (Urdu-speaking migrants or muhajirs) came to this city hungry and naked."

"If (MQM-Haqiqi leader) Afaq Ahmed is a criminal, then (MQM leader) Altaf Hussain is 100-times a bigger criminal," bellowed Mirza.

He also described Altaf Hussain as a terrorist and killer and appealed to the people to get rid of the "Kambakht".

"Afaq is the second-biggest political prisoner in Pakistan after President Asif Ali Zardari," he said.

He accused MQM of trying to divide Sindh.

"You will divide Sindh over my dead body," Mirza said at a dinner hosted by Awami National Party (ANP) leader Shahi Syed, a staunch rival of the MQM.

After his remarks, angry mobs resorted to indiscriminate firing, burning vehicles and shops, forcing Sindh's ruling Pakistan People's Party to disassociate itself from Mirza's remarks.

"I apologise to MQM leader Altaf Hussain and the Urdu speaking people if they have been hurt by the remarks of Zulfikar Mirza," Interior Minister Rehman Malik said.

Malik said the President had directed Sindh Chief Minister to submit a report within 24 hours on Mirza's remarks.

"The remarks by Mirza were unfortunate and should not have been made. It is his personal views and made in a state of emotion. We respect the MQM and Altaf Hussain and regard them highly," Malik said in a bid to appease the MQM which has called for a day of protests in Sindh.

To defuse the situation, the government also had the Sindh information department issue a letter of apology from Mirza which was on plain paper and not signed. It quoted Mirza as saying that he regretted if people had been hurt by his remarks.

The letter also quoted Mirza as saying that the Urdu speaking people were like his brothers and Pakistan was their country.

But the damage done by Mirza's remarks was apparent throughout the day forcing Hussain to step in.

Hussain made a passionate appeal from his headquarters in London to the people across the country to stop the "peaceful protests" and return to normal life.

Following this, calm returned to Karachi and other parts of Sindh province affected by violence.

"The peaceful protests be stopped against the use of biased and discriminatory language against the successors of the founders of Pakistan," Hussain said.