Pakistan steps up security as Karachi toll hits 58

Political, ethnic and criminal rivalries in Karachi have left more than 200 people dead last month.

Karachi: Hundreds of extra paramilitary troops have been deployed in Pakistan`s economic capital Karachi which is struggling to end violence that has killed 58 people in five days, officials said on Wednesday.

Authorities are battling to halt gunfights raging across the key port city -- used by NATO to ship supplies to Afghanistan -- where political, ethnic and criminal rivalries left more than 200 people dead last month.

The provincial government is offering 10 million rupees (USD 115,000) to citizens who provide information leading to arrests of those responsible for the violence, the worst in the city since 1995.

Local government official Sharfuddin Memon said the extra paramilitary soldiers and policemen entered the city`s troubled western neighbourhoods on Tuesday night.

"Some suspects have been detained," after house to house searches, he added.

The death toll in the five days to Wednesday reached 58, with 35 people killed in 24 hours.

Wajid Durrani, police chief of the southern Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital, said police had made 24 arrests and some officials said calm had been restored.

President Asif Ali Zardari chaired three meetings in Islamabad to discuss the situation in Karachi and called for "administrative and political measures to bring peace in the city”, an official statement said.

He called on political parties in Karachi to help "bring the criminal elements to justice”, the statement said.

Much of the fighting has been blamed on supporters of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) political party representing the Urdu-speaking majority, and the rival Awami National Party (ANP), which represents ethnic Pashtun migrants.

MQM chief Altaf Hussain, who lives in exile in London, addressed his followers by telephone and invited the military to come to Karachi and see who is involved in "the ongoing terrorism".

"I also request the international community to use its influence on the Pakistani government to restore law and order in Karachi," he added, warning that the situation could worsen if not "tackled seriously".

In an overnight statement, Hussain had warned people to stockpile food for a month as the law and order situation worsens.

Karachi is Pakistan`s largest city, with a population of 17 million. It was gripped by deadly communal violence throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

The Arabian Sea port city is used by NATO to ship the bulk of supplies to troops fighting in Afghanistan.

Government officials and coalition party members have distributed stickers, pamphlets and placards pleading for peace, but to little effect.

Bureau Report

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