KARACHI (Reuters) - A fresh wave of violence gripped Pakistan’s commercial hub of Karachi Thursday, with officials saying at least 39 people had been killed over two days in gang wars and political disputes, some after being tortured.
Fighting erupted Wednesday in and around the old district of Lyari, long a focus of battles between rival gangs and a stronghold of President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
It then spread to nearby parts of Karachi’s west side, though shops remained open in other areas and public transport was running.
“Most of the initial killings were a result of clashes between criminal gangs operating in Lyari and surrounding areas,” a police official said.
“But violence has started spreading around and now it’s a mix of gang war as well as political violence.”
Police chief Saud Mirza told Reuters that 17 people were killed Wednesday and 22 more Thursday. A former PPP lawmaker was among the dead, killed with a friend Wednesday when unknown gunmen opened fire at him at a roadside cafe.
Officials said there was evidence victims had been tortured.
“Some of the bodies are in bad shape and show that the victims were tortured before being killed,” a hospital official said.
A top police official said the most recent victims had clear political connections.
“We have found a number of bodies today, quite a few of which are of people with political affiliations,” he said. “Many of those killed were kidnapped first and then killed and their bodies dumped ... Some of them were tortured as well.”
A city of more than 18 million, Karachi has a long history of violence, and ethnic, religious and sectarian disputes and political rows can often explode into battles engulfing entire neighbourhoods.
Street thugs and ethnic gangs have been used by political parties as foot soldiers in a turf war in a city which contributes about two-third of Pakistan’s tax revenue and is home to ports, the stock exchange and central bank.
Pakistan’s interior minister this month vowed to restore peace in the city after a fresh bout of violence and warned of stern action against militants and criminals.
Hundreds of additional police and paramilitary troops were deployed in Karachi last month to quell the unrest.
About 300 people were killed last month - one of the deadliest months in almost two decades - in fighting linked to ethnic and religious tensions that plague Karachi.
According to the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 800 people have been killed in the first seven months of this year in ethnic and politically linked violence alone.
Al Qaeda-linked militants targeted Karachi for bombings, kidnappings and assassinations after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, when Pakistan joined the U.S.-led campaign against militancy. Foreigners were repeatedly attacked.
Editing by Chris Allbritton and Ron Popeski