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Pakistani party says won`t quit after violence vow

Last Updated: Monday, January 11, 2010 - 16:33

Karachi: A regional Pakistani party said on Monday it would not quit the ruling coalition after it won government assurance of efforts to stop violence against its political workers in the commercial hub of Karachi.
About 40 people, most of them rival political activists, have been killed in four days of violence in Karachi, Pakistan`s biggest city which has a long history of factional bloodshed, although it has been relatively peaceful in recent years.

Questions about the future of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) in a coalition led by President Asif Ali Zardari`s party had raised fear of instability for a government already facing criticism over graft, a Taliban insurgency and economic woes.

The violence has largely been between activists from the MQM and their rivals from Zardari`s Pakistan People`s Party (PPP), even though the parties are coalition allies at both the federal and provincial levels.

Karachi is home to Pakistan`s main stock market, the central bank and its two main ports.

While investors in Pakistan have got used to almost daily Islamist violence in the northwest, bloodshed in Karachi has a more direct impact on financial market sentiment.

But investors shrugged off the bloodshed and the Karachi Stock Exchange`s benchmark 100-share index was 0.72 percent higher at 9,847.02 at 0915 GMT on hopes for strong corporate results, dealers said.

MQM`s Members of Parliament on Saturday asked their leaders to allow them to leave the coalition in response to the violence.

A top leader of the MQM, the dominant political party in Karachi, said it would not leave the coalition after Interior Minister Rehman Malik met MQM leaders late on Sunday and vowed all-out efforts for peace.

"So obviously, the demand to quit will be turned down," Saghir Asghar, a member of the party`s top decision-making body, said.

Search, suspects held

Paramilitary soldiers and police conducted a search late on Sunday in the Lyari neighbourhood, a PPP stronghold, and detained about a dozen suspects. No exchange of fire was reported.

"It wasn`t a one-time operation. If there is any trouble and we feel a crackdown is necessary we`ll go after them," a paramilitary forces spokesman said.

A senior government official said on the weekend that gangsters and the drug mafia were taking advantage of the tension and the violence could get worse.

The PPP and MQM have long been the main contenders for power in Karachi. The PPP dominates in rural areas of Sindh province, of which Karachi is capital.

The MQM won 25 seats in the 342-member National Assembly a February 2008 general election.

Its departure from the coalition, while not leading to the government`s collapse, would put pressure on the PPP to win over other parties and independents to shore up its position.

Karachi has been largely been free of Islamist violence over the past couple of years, but a bomb at a minority Shi`ite Muslim procession bys in late December fuelled concern that the militants were expanding their fight to the city.

Bureau Report

First Published: Monday, January 11, 2010 - 16:33
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