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Pakistan violence: Sparked by Karachi's 300th assassination this year

The murder of Karachi politician Raza Haider on Monday sparked Pakistan ethnic violence that left at least 35 dead. Haider's murder was one of about 300 assassinations in Pakistan's financial capital so far this year.

By Huma YusufCorrespondent / August 3, 2010

Pakistani para military troops patrol in Karachi, Pakistan following the killing of a local leader of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) in Pakistan on Tuesday.

Shakil Adil/AP

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Karachi, Pakistan

The murder of a Pakistani politician on Monday sparked deadly riots in Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi in which 35 people were killed and at least 80 wounded.

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The death of Raza Haider, a member of parliament and senior leader of the secular Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party, is the latest and most high-profile in a series of political assassinations that have deepened ethnic tensions in Pakistan’s financial capital. Over 300 people have been assassinated for ethnic or political reasons in Karachi this year. But now, the government claims that militant groups are behind Haider's assassination.

That may be the case, but Pakistani society is seeing a growing degree of both religious and ethnic polarization. There have been attacks by militants on Sufi shrines in other parts of the country. And while retaliation has been limited so far, there were signs of further trouble in the overnight rioting. The MQM represents Karachi's majority Urdu-speaking population and are rivals for political leadership and land ownership with minority Pashtuns who have migrated from northwestern Pakistan seeking employment.

Leaders of the MQM claimed that activists of the Awami National Party (ANP) – who are primarily Pashtuns – were behind the assassination. According to the police, the majority of those killed or injured during retaliatory attacks on Monday night belonged to the Pashtun community.

Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik called Haider’s assassination a “trap to destabilize Pakistan” and accused the banned sectarian groups Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ) of organizing the murder to “destabilize Karachi.” Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a police official with the Crime Investigation Department said that three suspects in the killing have confessed ties to the SSP.

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