4 killed in violence at Pak tribal chief Bugti's funeral
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4 killed in violence at Pak tribal chief Bugti's funeral

The funeral of the tribal leader turns violent a powerful bomb blast kills 4 factory workers at a restaurant.

india Updated: Aug 30, 2006 03:13 IST

A funeral ceremony for a tribal chief killed in a Pakistani army raid descended into violence on Tuesday as protesters hurled grenades at police and burned dozens of shops. A bomb blast killed four factory workers at a restaurant as widespread southern unrest stretched into its fourth day.

More than 10,000 mourners attended an emotion-charged service at a stadium in the Baluchistan provincial capital of Quetta for fugitive tribal leader Nawab Akbar Bugti, who was killed when heavy fighting on Saturday caused his mountain hide-out to cave in on him.

The military said it had not yet retrieved the 79-year-old's body but was sure he had died in an unexplained explosion at a cave in Kohlu, 220 kilometers (140 miles) east of Quetta.

A Bugti supporter serving as an army guide told officers at the scene that the tribal leader was in the cave hide-out before the blast. Bugti led an often violent political campaign to win greater control for ethnic-Baluch tribespeople over wealth gained from gas, oil and other natural resources extracted in the region, which is Pakistan's poorest.

Political and religious leaders led thousands of mourners in prayers during the funeral ceremony. Protesters chanted "Death to Pakistan's army" and "Pakistan will disintegrate, Pakistan will no longer exist" as a Pakistani military helicopter hovered overhead. Afterward, groups of young men smashed windows throughout the stadium and burned a security guard post.

Smoke billowed from surrounding streets as protesters, many with faces covered by scarves, set car tires and at least 20 businesses alight. Protesters threw two grenades at scores of police deployed outside the packed stadium, but nobody was hurt, police said.

Gunfire broke out shortly after, wounding two police. Bellowing through a loudspeaker, Bugti's son-in-law and Pakistani Senator Agha Shahid Bugti appealed for calm, yelling: "Anyone who is looting and damaging other's property has nothing to do with us. We are peaceful. They are our enemies."

Two banks, three restaurants and a courier company were also set ablaze in Quetta. Hundreds of club- and cricket bat-wielding protesters also burned shops, banks and cars in the towns of Khuzdar, Turbat and Gawadar, on the Arabian Sea coast.

A bomb exploded in a crowded roadside restaurant in the Baluchistan town of Hub, killing four civilians and wounding 10, police said. The motive for the attack was unclear. Police arrested over 60 rioters and the southern port of Karachi, taking the number of people detained since the violence began to almost 600. Gunshots fired at one Karachi protest wounded two teenagers, police said.

Bugti, a former provincial governor and prominent militia leader, fled into Kohlu's mountains in December after Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf survived a rocket attack during a trip to Kohlu. Some officials blamed Bugti supporters for the attack.

"What has caused this ... (cave) collapse, one does not know because all those who could have witnessed it (including Bugti) ... were buried," chief army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan told reporters. "It could have been a (land) mine incident, it could have been another explosion, it could have been a fire from inside."

But the late leader's son, Talal, doubted government claims that his father's body was still trapped under rubble, telling Associated Press Television News that it "may be lying in a hospital. They are telling a lie that it is still in the cave."

Despite the violence, army spokesman Sultan said most people in Baluchistan were supporting government efforts to bring control to the region, adding that the situation in the province was "normal."

Sultan said 1,500 members of the ethnic-Baluch Marri tribe, which had clashed with Bugti followers in the past before a recent reconciliation, laid down their arms in Kohlu where Bugti was killed. But Kohlu district official Mohammed Naseem Lehri said just 400 Marri tribesmen pledged to end their armed resistance to the government.

In a bid to ease tensions, Baluchistan's government banned the carrying of "fire arms and lethal weapons" for two months across the province, where guns are freely available, an official statement said.

Baluchistan, bordering Afghanistan and Iran, has seen decades of conflict as Bugti's tribal militia mounted guerrilla-style resistance against armed forces that moved to establish garrisons and assert government control over the lawless region.

First Published: Aug 29, 2006 23:08 IST