Murdered politician buried amid tight security in Pakistan
More than 200,000 mourners packed the streets of Karachi on Saturday for the burial of murdered politician Imran Farooq, amid heightened security in the bustling port city.
Pakistan's largest city was virtually shut down due to fears of political unrest as Farooq's body was laid to rest in front of wailing crowds shouting slogans, but there were no reports of any violence.
Farooq, 50, a founding member of Pakistan's MQM -- a key political force in Karachi -- was found with head injuries and stab wounds outside his London home on September 16. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Tearful mourners shouted "Farooq's sacrifice will bring revolution, we want justice and accountability for blood of Farooq", as the heavily guarded funeral procession snaked towards MQM's cemetery in the city.
Special gates with explosive detectors were erected at Jinnah ground and a helicopter hovered overhead to monitor the procession and later funeral prayers.
Farooq's wife, mother and father accompanied his body, which was in a coffin with a Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party flag draped over it.
City police chief Fayyaz Laghari told AFP that more than 5,000 policemen had guarded the route of the procession, while 1,000 paramilitary rangers had been at the airport to receive the body after it was flown in from Britain.
The governor of Sindh province, Sindh Ishratul Ibaad, other MQM leaders and interior minister Rehman Malik of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) entered the aircraft to receive Farooq's family.
"A couple of hundreds of thousands of people came to funeral despite fear, threat and security concern," Faisal Sabzwari, a top MQM leader and provincial minister, told AFP.
Karachi went into virtual lockdown. "Public transport has ground to a halt owing to fears of possible violence," president of the Karachi Transport Union, Irshad Bokhari, told AFP.
British police on Friday released an e-fit image of a man they want to speak to in connection with the murder of Farooq, who claimed asylum in Britain in 1999.
He had twice been elected an MP in Pakistan but went into hiding in 1992 when the government ordered a military crackdown against party activists in Karachi.
He was wanted over scores of charges, including murder and torture, but always maintained that the charges were politically motivated.
"Farooq was one of the senior leaders and people literally used to worship him for his leadership qualities," Sabzwari told AFP.
"Terrorists are after us and we are trying hard with government and security forces to prevent violence," he added.
MQM, a party representing Urdu-speaking people, is a partner in the ruling coalition led by the PPP in the southern province of Sindh, of which Karachi is the capital.
Karachi has faced its worst political violence in years over the past three months, with 85 people killed in the aftermath of the shooting of another lawmaker in August, and at least 70 more in October.
The city has long been plagued by ethnic and sectarian killings.
The recent violence has killed supporters of local coalition partners MQM and the Awami National Party (ANP), which represents the Pashto-speaking people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Both parties blame each other for the violence, fanning political tensions within Karachi that reverberate to the capital Islamabad, where both factions are also members of the ruling federal coalition.
© 2010 AFP