12/02/2008, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Fourth day of ethnic fighting in Karachi, dozens dead

Armed conflict, fires and destruction between the Urdu majority and the Pashtun minority. The police have been ordered to shoot the agitators on sight, and say that today there is less fighting. It is a rift that goes back for decades, because of ethnic and economic reasons.

Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Fighting between rival groups has killed another four people today in Karachi. The police say that the violence is diminishing, and that there have been no major clashes after more than 40 people have died in four days, and hundreds have been injured. But the people continue to flee from the city (in the photo).

For months, in the city of 15 million inhabitants, the largest commercial center in the country, tension has been rising between the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) - which represents the ethnic Urdu majority, many of them descendants of people who left India after the partition in 1947 - and the Awami National Party (AWP) of the Pashtun minority, who have come from the northwestern part of the country and from to Afghanistan in search of work. Some leaders of the MQM have accused the Taliban militants - most of them Pashtun - of wanting to control the city. The AWP replies that there is "a conspiracy" against the Pashtuns in the city. In recent weeks, activists believed to be members of the MQM have forced the closure of dozens of tea shops and stores operated by Pashtuns in Urdu majority areas. The violence exploded on November 29, after the killing of the Pashtun owner of a tea shop. Groups of Pashtuns reacted by taking control of various points of entry into the city.

There have been armed conflicts between the rival groups, with shops and cars burned, and homes attacked. Gunmen in cars and on motorcycles have gone around the city shooting indiscriminately at pedestrians and vehicles. The fighting continued and escalated until yesterday, raising fears of a return to the systematic violence that broke out in the early 1990's. Appeals to calm by the two parties and by the Pakistan People's Party of president Asif Ali Zardari had no effect. In order to control the city, the police have been ordered to shoot on sight those who create disorder, and motorcycles have been prohibited. Today, the schools have remained closed and vehicle traffic is at a minimum, but the banks have continued to work normally.

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