Karachi Quiet for First Time Since Assassination, Paralyzed By Riots

Residents of Pakistan's largest city cautiously emerged from their homes Sunday and struggled to find food and fuel amid the blackened buildings, shattered glass and burnt-out vehicles littering the streets of Karachi.

With police and troops patrolling, Pakistan's largest city appeared quiet for the first time since Benazir Bhutto's assassination Thursday sparked a wave of angry rioting.

The previous three days of clashes and looting left at least 40 people dead across Sindh Province, where Karachi is located, provincial Home Minister Akhtar Zemin told The Associated Press. Hundreds of bank branches were destroyed and 950 vehicles burned.

The normally bustling port city remained a virtual ghost town, shocked by Bhutto's death. Nearly all shops were closed and streets normally packed with traffic were empty, save for boys playing cricket.

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Mohammed Umar, 60, a retired government official, left his apartment to buy flatbread at one of only two shops open in a main market area. He said his wife normally bakes bread at home, but they had run out of flour, sugar and milk.

The night before, Umar said he had watched looters cutting locks off shops and questioned why authorities were not taking more aggressive steps to stop the chaos.

"The government is purely responsible for this," he said.

Next door, Mussarad Nasim Albert bought some laundry detergent from a supermarket where the shopkeeper peddled goods from beneath a metal door and through bars usually open during business hours. The 49-year-old nurse said she had been unable to get to work for the past few days.

She lamented that goods were now being sold at nearly double normal prices and bought just a few necessities like potatoes and onions because of the crisis-spawned inflation.

"There is nothing in the house, I am searching for things," she said.

Makeshift barriers surrounded almost every gas station, including one where 18-year-old Mohammad Shoaib was waiting in hope of filling up his small motorcycle. He had been set to take an entrance exam to seek a bachelor's degree in computer science, but the test was indefinitely postponed due to the violence.

"These are the stupidest people who are doing this," he said of those who caused the destruction. "We will have to rebuild it again."

Police with assault rifles were stationed on street corners across Karachi, and military patrols in armored vehicles rode through the rougher parts of the city, such as the notorious Lyari slums that have seen the most unrest.

Hundreds of Bhutto supporters gathered for memorial prayers at a party office, chanting "Benazir is innocent!" before marching into the streets. They were trailed by a police truck with an officer on top wielding a tear gas grenade launcher.

At Bhutto's house in the city, supporter Masi Mehru's tears welled behind her eyeglasses as she clasped her hands on her head and pounded her chest, saying she had not eaten from grief since the former prime minister was killed Thursday at a campaign rally in the northern city of Rawalpindi.

"I would rather have died instead of her," said Mehru, who is in her 70s. She and her 40-year-old daughter Husan Banu wanted to pay their respects at the house but had become stranded there because most transport in the city was shut down.

The military said in a statement that it was giving shelter to more than 5,000 people in the province stranded due to vandalized trains, taking some to their destinations via buses after clearing blocked roads.

As the sun set on the coast of the Arabian Sea, some Karachi residents ventured out to the Sea View beach where camels or horses to ride were on offer and a snake charmer serenaded a cobra.

Jahan Zeb, a 29-year-old banker, strolled with his 1-year-old son and wife, venturing outside for the first time after three days sheltering at home. He said investment was likely to slow in Pakistan as people instead turned to savings to avoid risk.

"I hope we'll return to democracy as soon as possible with elections with all parties — that's the only way out," he said.