Pakistan cities wake from Bhutto crisis

KARACHI Mon Dec 31, 2007 10:09am IST

Candles are lit around a portrait of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto after a ceremony at a temple in Rawalpindi December 30, 2007. Major Pakistani cities stirred back to life on Monday for the first time since Bhutto was assassinated, emerging from violent unrest that paralysed trade and commerce. REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

Candles are lit around a portrait of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto after a ceremony at a temple in Rawalpindi December 30, 2007. Major Pakistani cities stirred back to life on Monday for the first time since Bhutto was assassinated, emerging from violent unrest that paralysed trade and commerce.

Credit: Reuters/Mian Khursheed

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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 paralysed 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.

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.

VOTE DELAY?

The party's executive committee also declared it would take part in elections, currently scheduled for Jan. 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.

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