Pakistan

Pakistan: Water-shortage protests turn deadly

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ISLAMABAD, 18 April (IRIN) - Security in the southern city of Karachi has been tightened following two bomb blasts on Wednesday, which killed one person and coincided with a one-day strike in protest against water shortages in Pakistan's southeastern Sindh Province.
The strike was the latest in a series of protests against the water crisis, which turned violent on Monday when police used tear gas and batons on a crowd of demonstrators. "Two persons were seen carrying the bomb near a small petrol pump at Clifton, which exploded in their hands," the police spokesman for Sindh, Ghulamus Saqlain, told IRIN. "One person was killed and one injured," he said. "No one claimed responsibility."

Tuesday night saw violence across the city, with newspapers reporting over 200 people being detained, dozens of vehicles torched and outbreaks of sporadic shooting. Saqlain said a special meeting of Sindh police had been called to review security measures in view of today's strike. All police personnel were told to report on duty, leave was cancelled, and reinforcements were called in from the reserve forces.

The strike was called jointly by two opposition political parties - the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Jiye Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM) - to protest against water shortages in Sindh Province.

The parties claim that an artificial water shortage in Sindh Province is being created because the government is not releasing its share of the water which is necessary to maintain levels in the Indus basin. As a result, large areas have been inundated by sea water, there is an acute shortage of potable water, and agricultural production has been severely affected.

"The water resources of the country should be pooled and distributed fairly to all the provinces," Nasreen Jalil, a senior MQM leader, told IRIN. On 10 April members of the two parties began a series of token hunger strikes to protest against the water shortages. According to Jalil, the hunger strikes were dealt with over-zealously by the police, with many arrests.

On Monday the parties called on their supporters to continue the protest by marching on the provincial governor's house in Karachi. The demonstrators were met by police using tear gas and batons. "They tried to stop us, and they tear-gassed the crowd," said Jalil. "There was no need for that. Up to then our demonstration had been peaceful. Then we announced the strike call for today."

Jalil condemned the violence which has engulfed the city, saying it was the state's way of giving the MQM a terrorist image. "A peaceful strike call has been turned into an event full of violence," said Jalil. "The authorities twist it to make it appear that it is the MQM behind it. We condemn the bombs, and we denounce them and the scare that has been created in the city."

Pakistan is currently in the midst of what some are saying is the worst water crisis the country has ever seen. The drought affecting the region threatens agricultural output, and levels in the country's reservoirs are dangerously low.

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