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Deadly rioting continues

Times Staff Writer

President Pervez Musharraf on Saturday expressed determination to restore law and order after the country was racked by a third day of riots and looting that have killed dozens of people since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Officials said at least 44 people had been killed in unrest that broke out Thursday night after the former prime minister was killed as she left a campaign rally.

Much of the unrest has been concentrated in and around Karachi, the southern port city that was Bhutto’s home base. It has a long history of political violence and is a stronghold of a pro-Musharraf party.

Among the recent casualties was a young man shot to death in Karachi while wearing a tunic made from the flag of Bhutto’s party. A gun battle in the streets of the city killed three other people.

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Clashes also broke out Saturday in Rawalpindi, the city where Bhutto was killed. After leaving a memorial service, some supporters threw stones at police officers, who responded with tear gas.

Other parts of the country, including the capital, Islamabad, remained mostly calm.

The Interior Ministry said Saturday that the violence had damaged or destroyed hundreds of banks, stores, gas stations, railway cars and rail stations. Property damage was estimated in the tens of millions of dollars.

Paramilitary troops in the most volatile areas have been given permission to use deadly force against rioters.

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The country has been in a state of virtual shutdown since Bhutto was killed, but that was apparently in part because of violence and in part because of the three official days of mourning that Musharraf declared.

Officials indicated that the violence might affect a decision on whether to go ahead with parliamentary elections on Jan. 8. The Election Commission was to meet Monday to discuss whether the vote should be postponed.

Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party planned to meet today, a gathering at which it may choose a new leader and decide whether to boycott the elections.

laura.king@latimes.com

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