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Last Updated: Monday, 14 May 2007, 16:35 GMT 17:35 UK
Pakistan city shut down by strike
Karachi policeman amid debris after street violence
At least 41 people died in street battles over the weekend
A strike in the Pakistani city of Karachi has closed shops and cleared transport from the roads after two days of violence left 41 people dead.

The strike was called amid some of the worst street battles in recent years, triggered by the suspension of a top judge by President Pervez Musharraf.

Authorities have now banned gatherings of more than five people in the city.

Correspondents say the weekend's violence marked a serious escalation of a crisis that began in March.

The city is totally paralysed
Azhar Farooqi
Karachi police chief

In those two months, suspended chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has become a focus for protesters trying to end military rule.

Karachi city police chief Azhar Farooqi told Reuters news agency that there had been no violence on Monday, although the city was very tense.

Mr Farooqi said the city remained "totally paralysed" throughout Monday, with shops closed and very little public transport on the roads.

He said people were still scared.

Opposition parties on Monday called for a national strike and a day of mourning to protest against the bloodshed.

Meanwhile, provincial authorities have banned all political rallies as security forces tried to restore order.

"We have banned the assembly of more than five people in any public place in Karachi for Monday," Sindh province interior secretary Brigadier Ghulam Muhammad Muhtaram told the AFP news agency earlier on Monday.

Shoot orders

Funeral processions were accompanied by gun battles and arson.

The fighting on Saturday was between supporters of the government and supporters of the chief justice but by Sunday it had begun to turn into clashes between traditional ethnic rivals.

Injured man in Karachi
A number of people were injured in clashes

Opposition groups blamed the pro-Musharraf MQM party of organising the unrest, but it denied the claim.

Pakistan's government on Sunday authorised paramilitary troops to shoot anyone involved in serious violence.

Speaking at a mass rally in Islamabad on Saturday night, Gen Musharraf ruled out declaring a state of emergency and appealed to the country to stand united.

He also blamed "elements who tried to create turmoil by politicising" Chief Justice Chaudhry's suspension.

HAVE YOUR SAY
I regard the rallies in Pakistan as battle for democracy
Metin, Ankara

Since his suspension on charges of "misuse of authority", Mr Chaudhry has become the focus of widespread opposition to the government of Gen Musharraf, who took power in a coup in 1999.

Correspondents say opposition parties have turned Mr Chaudhry's case into a campaign against military rule.

Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry
Mr Chaudhry was suspended from his post in March

His supporters say that Gen Musharraf wants the judiciary headed by a lawyer whom he can more easily manipulate.

Meanwhile, a hearing into a petition by the chief justice challenging his dismissal has been halted in the Supreme Court in Islamabad after one of the 14 judges on the bench refused to hear the case.

Justice Falak Sher raised objections over the constitution of the bench saying several judges were his junior.

The bench will be reconstituted later.

Also in Islamabad, an official of the Supreme Court was shot dead. Police say he was killed by robbers in an unrelated incident.

But lawyers fighting on behalf of the suspended chief justice say that Syed Hammad Raza, an additional registrar of the Supreme Court, was an "important person" in their case against his dismissal.

"He was witness to many things, like the chief justice said in his petition that some files were removed from his chamber on the day he was suspended," lawyer Tariq Mehmood told Reuters.




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Troops patrol on the streets of Karachi



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