Pakistan city of Karachi hit by factional 'bloodbath'

Paramedics treat an injured man in a Karachi hospital Hospitals have been deluged with injured people

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At least 27 people have been killed in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi in violence since Saturday, police and hospital sources say.

Most violence was reported from the eastern and central parts of the city, police say.

Hundreds of people have been killed in ethnic violence in this sprawling metropolis in recent months.

Much of it has involved activists of the city's dominant parties such as the MQM, the ANP and PPP.

The attacks are part of a cycle of violence which has claimed the lives of 200 people since 1 July, police officials say. Three of the deaths were on Monday.

The latest round of violence started when members of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) resisted attempts by a breakaway faction to come out of hiding - after a decade under cover - and enter areas of the city.

The MQM is mainly a party of Muslim Urdu-speaking people whose families moved to Sindh province at the time of the partition of India in 1947.

The MQM(H) broke away from the MQM in 1991, and since then the two have had a history of mutual violence and armed hostilities.

'Armed terrorists'

The top leaders of MQM(H) were jailed in 2002-03 on various charges, and the bulk of its activists went into hiding, fearing persecution by members of the MQM who were then in power.

Six people on a motorcycle in Karachi A ban on pillion riding has been introduced to reduce drive-by shootings

The MQM is still a part of the ruling coalition both at the centre and in Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital.

The failure of the prosecution to obtain a conviction against Afaq Ahmad, the top leader of the MQM(H), prompted his party activists to return to their areas of the city.

Witnesses told BBC Urdu service that violence had erupted in the eastern district of Malir on Saturday when some MQM(H) activists tried to enter the area. The activists were among those who had been in hiding for nearly 10 years after their leaders were jailed on various charges.

A spokeswoman of MQM(H), Rida Fatima, told the media on Sunday that at least four party activists had been killed when they returned to their homes on Saturday.

She said that the houses of three MQM(H) activists were also burnt down.

Body count

Meanwhile, the London-based chief of MQM, Altaf Hussain, in a statement on Sunday blamed "armed terrorists" and "criminal elements" for causing a "bloodbath" in some areas.

Pakistani policemen stand guard in a deserted street in a western neighbourhood affected by the political violence in Karachi on 7 July 2011 There is additional security across Karachi

Police and paramilitary rangers have been put on 24-hour patrol duty in some tense areas of Karachi, where weapons were recovered and arrests made, police official Naim Baroka told the media.

Meanwhile the administration has banned pillion riding on motorbikes to reduce the number of drive-by shootings.

The BBC's Syed Shoaib Hosain in Karachi says that there is a tit-for-tat element to the violence, which is why the body count continues to mount.

Most of the victims killed so far are political activists.

Our correspondent says that the violence has descended into street battles between armed groups in some areas.

This is especially so in Malir but also in other neighbourhoods hit by drive-by shootings of political workers.

The authorities have now deployed additional security patrols in addition to snap checkpoints on all major roads.

Political leaders have appealed for calm, with the the central government announcing on Monday that it was working on a new strategy to bring peace.

Our correspondent says that similar efforts in the past have failed to end the killings.

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