Islamabad: At least 27 people were killed and over 60 injured in various incidents of violence that broke out Saturday night, hours ahead of the by-poll being held Sunday for an assembly seat in Karachi, capital of Pakistan`s Sindh province.
Most of the killings are believed to be the result of political enmity between the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Awami National Party (ANP).
ANP Sindh chief Shahi Syed addressed a press conference Saturday evening and announced the party would "boycott the polls in protest". "The provincial government has failed to control the law and order and we don`t think it is advisable to go to polls in such an environment," he argued.
MQM central leader Wasim Aftab said that the "PS-94 seat belonged to MQM as our candidates have been winning from there with thumping majority. ANP wanted to run away from the contest fearing defeat and are raising a storm in a tea cup", he remarked.
Soon after these fiery statements, clashes broke out in various parts of the city and supporters of both parties resorted to indiscriminate firing in a bid to take control ahead of the polling.
A mob torched five vehicles as the city came to a virtual standstill, police said. Ironically, the MQM and the ANP are both members of the Sindh`s coalition that is headed by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is the PPP co-chair.
Earlier, a spokesman of the Sindh Rangers had warned of "firing and a suicide attack during the polls Sunday". But the election commission announced that "the voting will take place as per schedule".
Police officer Fayyaz Leghari said that "joint teams of police and Rangers had been deputed to control the situation. The polling in PS-94 is going smoothly and fool-proof security arrangements have been made," he said, while conceding that "there was unrest in the city otherwise".
The Orangi Town area that forms a major part of the constituency has been a MQM stronghold and the ANP had called for the army to take over for a fair by-election. After the demand was not heeded to, the ANP boycotted the election.
MQM candidate Safullah Khalid said the "opponents tried to block entry of the voters to the polling stations but did not succeed".
The Urdu-speaking Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Pashto-speaking Awami National Party (ANP) have been constantly at loggerheads for the past several years to take political control of Karachi, the country`s financial hub.
The PS-94 constituency was vacated after the target-killing of MQM legislator Raza Haider Aug 3. MQM blamed the killing on ANP, who vehemently denied the allegation. More than 100 people were killed in violent clashes after the assassination.