MQM says won’t quit coalition after govt assurance

KARACHI: The Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) said on Monday it would not quit the ruling coalition after it won the government’s assurance of efforts to stop violence against its political workers in Karachi.

About 40 people, most of them rival political activists, have been killed in four days of violence in Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city which has a long history of factional bloodshed, although it has been relatively peaceful in recent years.

Questions about the future of the MQM in a coalition led by President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) had raised fear of instability for a government already facing criticism over graft, a Taliban insurgency and economic woes.

The violence has largely been between activists from the MQM and their rivals from the PPP, even though the parties are coalition allies at both the federal and provincial levels.

Karachi is home to Pakistan’s main stock market, the central bank and its two main ports.

While investors in Pakistan have gotten used to almost daily militant violence in the northwest, bloodshed in Karachi has a more direct impact on financial market sentiment.

But investors shrugged off the bloodshed and the Karachi Stock Exchange’s benchmark 100-share index was 0.72 per cent higher at 9,847.02 at 0915 GMT on hopes for strong corporate results, dealers said.

MQM’s members of parliament on Saturday asked their leaders to allow them to leave the coalition in response to the violence.

A top leader of the MQM, the dominant political party in Karachi, said it would not leave the coalition after Interior Minister Rehman Malik met MQM leaders late on Sunday and vowed all-out efforts for peace.

“So obviously, the demand to quit will be turned down,” Saghir Asghar, a member of the party’s top decision-making body, told Reuters.

Search, suspects held

Paramilitary soldiers and police conducted a search late on Sunday in the Lyari neighbourhood, a PPP stronghold, and detained about a dozen suspects. No exchange of fire was reported.

“It wasn’t a one-time operation. If there is any trouble and we feel a crackdown is necessary we’ll go after them,” a paramilitary forces spokesman said.

A senior government official told Reuters on the weekend that gangsters and the drug mafia were taking advantage of the tension and the violence could get worse.

The PPP and MQM have long been the main contenders for power in Karachi. The PPP dominates in rural areas of Sindh province, of which Karachi is capital.

The MQM won 25 seats in the 342-member National Assembly a February 2008 general election.

Its departure from the coalition, while not leading to the government’s collapse, would put pressure on the PPP to win over other parties and independents to shore up its position.

Karachi has been largely been free of militant violence over the past couple of years, but a bomb at a minority Shia Muslim procession by militants in late December fuelled concern that the militants were expanding their fight to the city.

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