03/04/2013, 00.00
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Karachi, Shia targeted by extremists: over 50 dead and 150 wounded

The explosion - maybe a carbomb – triggered yesterday near a mosque, as faithful emerged. The death toll is expected to rise, many of the wounded in "critical" conditions. Pakistani Prime Minister visits city to coordinate rescue operations. Fears of an escalation of sectarian and ethnic violence.

Karachi (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Tension remains high in Karachi, Sindh province, southern Pakistan, where yesterday a devastating explosion in a predominantly Shiite area caused more than 50 deaths and at least 150 wounded. Hashim Raza Zaidi, a senior official from the local government, said that "the death toll could rise, because the conditions of at least half of the wounded is highly critical." In recent weeks, the Asian nation - due to hold general elections in the near future  - has seen an escalation of sectarian, ethnic and confessional violence. The last serious incident dates back to mid-February, when the minority Hazara were attacked in Quetta causing almost two hundred dead.

The explosion - a car bombing according to preliminary reports - invested two five-story buildings located in the district of Abbas, in a predominantly Shiite area of ​​the metropolis of Karachi. Following the blast a huge blaze broke out that has trapped many of the residents in the apartments. The blast shattered windows of buildings and caused the collapse of balconies and terraces, with extensive damage to hundreds of houses and shops in the area. The explosion was triggered as the faithful were leaving a local mosque. It is possible that the Shiite worshipers were the target of the attack, in which, however, many Sunni Muslims, the vast majority in the country, were also killed.

Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf was already in Karachi at the time of the attack, he canceled all commitments on his agenda, to coordinate rescue operations. So far there have been no claims  of responsibility, even if investigators are concentrating on Sunni extremist groups.

Karachi is a city of over 13 million inhabitants - the most populous in Pakistan - and it is an explosive mixture of criminal gangs, land lords, drug traffickers, communal violence, political rivalries and Islamic fundamentalism. However, the police report that murders of a confessional nature are only 20% of the total.  This despite claims by human rights associations and activists, according to which the central government and local authorities have done little or nothing to stem divisions and violence.

2012 was one of the most terrible years for Shiites, with a bloody toll that speaks more than 400 deaths in several attacks, including 125 in the province of Baluchistan where there is a strong Hazaras presence. With more than 180 million people (of which 97% profess Islam), Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world and is the second largest among the Muslim countries after Indonesia. About 80% are Sunni Muslim, while the Shiites are 20% of the total. There are also Hindus (1.85%), Christians (1.6%) and Sikhs (0.04%). Violence against ethnic or religious minorities is commonplace all over the country, from the province of Punjab to Karachi in southern Sindh province, where in the first eight months of 2012 more than 2,200 people were killed.


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