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22 dead in riots after Bhutto assassination

world Updated: Dec 28, 2007 11:48 IST

IANS
Highlight Story

Streets in Pakistani cities and towns were largely deserted on Friday and mobs ruled Karachi torching vehicles as violence sparked by Benazir Bhutto's assassination continued a second day.

Pakistani officials said at least 22 people had been killed and about 500 private and government vehicles set on fire in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Karachi and Peshawar, all of which saw spontaneous protests erupting on Thursday evening.

Five of the deaths in the street violence were reported in Karachi, Pakistan's reputedly most violent city, and 14 in Bhutto's home province Sindh even as it prepared for the funeral of the former prime minister.

At least three people were killed in the North West Frontier Province, where too Bhutto commanded wide support despite its proximity to the Pakistan-Afghan border region where Islmic hardliners opposed to Bhutto operate.

Pakistan indefinitely suspended rail services across the country after a train was torched in Karachi on Thursday and people pelted stones on two other passenger trains in interior Sindh.

Hundreds are stranded at various railway stations in the cold weather.

Violence erupted soon after Bhutto, 54, was killed Thursday evening minutes after she addressed a huge election rally at Liaqat Bagh in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, near here.

Supporters of Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) went on the rampage as news of her grisly death spread.

Their first targets were government vehicles as they blamed the government of President Pervez Musharraf for her killing ahead of the January elections.

On Friday, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi wore near deserted looks. The government has closed all offices and educational institutions.

All petrol and CNG stations were shut down and huge containers placed at their entry and exit points soon after Bhutto's assassination on Thursday evening to prevent rioters from running amok.

Some PPP activists went on hunger strike in Rawalpindi to protest the assassination and the government's culpability.

Opposition parties including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the Jamaat-e-Islami have called for a general strike on Friday.

Officials said more than 300 vehicles had been set on fire in Karachi, where Bhutto had survived a suicide bombing on her return home Oct 18 after eight long years in exile. That bombing killed more than 140 people.

Karachi residents reported traffic jams caused by blocking of roads by Bhutto supporters. This continued into Friday.

Several people were forced to leave their vehicles on the roads after running out of fuel. Furious PPP workers burnt many such vehicles.

Offices of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), which supports Musharraf, were set on fire by mobs throughout the country. PPP workers also destroyed the party's hoardings and posters while chanting slogans against Musharraf.

Amid the large-scale protests, thieves and dacoits had a field day. According to police, they broke into shops selling expensive items and looted goods and cash worth millions of rupees.