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50,000 Mourn Religious Leaders Slain in Homicide Attacks in Pakistan

Tens of thousands of mourners attended an emotionally charged funeral Thursday in this southern Pakistani city for the top leaders of a moderate Sunni Muslim group slain in a suicide bombing that killed 56 people, police said.

Inching through teeming crowds that thronged Karachi's streets, ambulances transported the bodies of three top leaders of the Sunni Tehrik group to the mosque of Alam Shah Bukhari, a Sunni saint.

At least 50,000 people surrounded the mosque, where the leaders were to be buried, a police official said on condition of anonymity because he was unauthorized to speak to the media. The huge crowds forced the group to cancel a plan to take the coffins on a six-mile procession.

Earlier, Pakistani troops deployed in the streets to curb rioting and vandalism that flared for a third straight day following the suicide attack. The deployments were the first here since Shiite-Sunni unrest in the early 1990s.

Dozens of youths took to the streets again, burning at least two public buses and a car, and hurling stones at police forces in various parts of Karachi, said Kazim Ali, the chief of Karachi's fire brigade. Youths also burned vehicles and smashed shop windows Wednesday.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz flew to Karachi, Pakistan's largest city of more than 15 million people, and met with Sunni leaders and security officials in a bid to calm seething tensions.

"All measures are being taken to maintain peace and order in the city and investigations are ongoing" to find those behind the attack, he said.

A police investigator said a Shiite Muslim man wounded in the bombing was moved from hospital care into police custody. The man was not being treated as a suspect, but police were questioning him about why he attended Tuesday's Sunni gathering, said the investigator, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Police searched for a second man who accompanied the Shiite Muslim to the service.

Soldiers deployed around the Karachi Civic Center, where the local government is based, and the National Museum. Other soldiers deployed in Karachi's southern suburbs, a stronghold of the Tehrik group and the site of much of this week's violence.

Normally bustling streets in Karachi were largely empty Thursday, but public transport resumed.

Leaders from about a dozen Sunni groups late Wednesday called for a countrywide general strike Friday — the Islamic holy day — to protest the bombing and demand the capture of the culprits, said Mufti Muneebur Rahman, a senior Sunni cleric.

Officials have said that Tuesday's bombing was aimed at wiping out the leadership of Tehrik, a rising Sunni Muslim political force.

Past attacks have been linked to simmering Shiite-Sunni Muslim tensions or rows between moderate and hard-line Sunni groups, which regard public ceremonies marking the prophet's birth as offensive. Most attacks have been blamed on outlawed extremist groups, but claims of responsibility are rarely made.

Karachi has been the scene of several bombings and other attacks since Pakistan became a key U.S. ally after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.