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Pakistan cities wake from Bhutto crisis

KARACHI (Reuters) - Major Pakistani cities stirred back to life on Monday for the first time since opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, emerging from violent unrest that paralyzed trade and commerce.

The biggest city Karachi, a virtual ghost town at the weekend after rioters went on a rampage burning shops, banks and cars began to get back to work.

Banks and shops rolled up shutters, cars and motorbikes returned to the streets and some petrol pumps opened for business after a three-day shut-down.

But there were none of the usual traffic jams in this bustling city of 14 million people, where schools were still closed and many workers remained at home four days after Bhutto was slain in a suicide attack.

“The situation is still very shaky right now. Everyone is afraid,” said 25-year-old Mohsin Siddiqi, who works in the treasury department at Unilever in Karachi.

“One good thing is the (Bhutto) party has called for peace and will take part in elections. Hopefully that will help things calm down ... Life is gradually returning to normal.”

Bhutto’s killing unleashed a wave of violence, especially in southern Sindh province, Bhutto’s home and political stronghold. Mobs angry at her death torched vehicles and railway stations, prompting police to adopt a shoot-on-sight policy.

Pakistani paramilitary troops patrol to control the violance after the assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi December 30, 2007. REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

A total of 47 people were killed in the violence.

On Sunday, Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party chose her 19-year-old son Bilawal as her political heir and co-chairman of the party, along with her widower, Asif Ali Zardari.


The party’s executive committee also declared it would take part in elections, currently scheduled for January 8 but expected by political analysts to be delayed.

“The elections should not be delayed as the main parties have said they will take part,” said Akbar Munir, 35, who works in marketing at a Karachi-based finance company.

“The government will clearly try to delay them, because it is in their own interest. People are very emotional, and 100 percent guaranteed the PPP vote will increase because of a wave of sympathy.”

In both Karachi and the northern industrial city of Lahore, markets begun to re-open on Sunday as residents looked to re-stock on groceries after a virtual lock-down.

Oil supplies have resumed to many parts of the country and rail services were set to resume from Karachi after stretches of track were torn up by protesters.

On Monday, Pakistan’s financial markets were due to open, having been shut on Saturday and Sunday because of the crisis.

Stocks are set to tumble amid concerns that another flare-up of violence could slam Pakistan’s bull run into reverse. A promising investment story less than a year ago, the country is now gripped by fears of capital flight if security worsens.

Additional reporting by Simon Gardner; Editing by Jeremy Laurence