Bhutto supporters shot dead, ambulances, shops burned

KARACHI – Three supporters of slain former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto were shot dead on Saturday, one by masked gunmen and two others by security forces as a mob tried to force itself into an oilfield, police said.

In a separate incident, four men were shot dead and seven others wounded in a district of the southern financial hub of Karachi, a hospital official said, as the death toll since Bhutto’s assassination on Thursday hit 44, including four police.

The state-run Associated Press of Pakistan cited President Pervez Musharraf as saying elements looting and plundering should be dealt with firmly.

The killings in the southern province of Sindh, Bhutto’s political stronghold, came as protesters torched shops, lorries, welfare centers and ambulances overnight as violence entered a third day.

A 27-year-old man wearing a tunic made from a Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) flag had just shouted “Bhutto is great” when he was gunned down while returning from the mausoleum where Bhutto was buried on Friday, police said.

“Two gunmen were waiting in a vehicle, their faces covered, and they opened fire,” said Shaukat Ali Shah, deputy inspector general of police in the city of Hyderabad in Sindh.

Separately, up to 400 PPP activists carrying banners, portraits of Bhutto and wielding bricks, tried to burst into an oilfield facility near Hyderabad before dawn, when security forces acted on orders to shoot violent protesters on sight.

“The mob was warned,” Shah said. “Two people were killed.”

Almost all of the deaths since Bhutto’s killing occurred in the southern province of Sindh, the PPP’s power base, where the Election Commission said several of its offices were set on fire and electoral rolls and ballot boxes destroyed.

Downtown neighborhoods of Karachi, the volatile capital of Sindh, and a city of 14 million people, were virtually deserted, as armed police and paramilitary forces patrolled streets.

Shops and petrol pumps were closed as the city observed a national three-day mourning period.

There were isolated acts of violence and arson, and roads were littered with broken glass and charred shells of cars.

Buildings and ambulances run by the Edhi Foundation, a charity that runs welfare centers, were vandalized.

Telephone and Internet links between Islamabad and Karachi were also disrupted due to the violence. The main fiber-optic between the two cities was cut in Sindh province and an angry mob on Saturday chased away engineers sent to fix it.

Officials said rioters had burned hundreds of vehicles and shops as well dozens of banks and petrol stations across the country, with much of the damage in Sindh.

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