Pakistan imposes curfew in violence-hit Rawalpindi

Pakistan imposes curfew in violence-hit Rawalpindi
Pakistani army soldiers take position to disperse Sunni Muslims protesting against the attack on aSunni mosque and seminary, in Multan on November 16, 2013. Pakistan on November 16 imposed a curfew in the city of Rawalpindi where sectarian clashes left eight people dead and more than 40 injured, officials said.

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan - Pakistan on Saturday imposed a curfew in the city of Rawalpindi where sectarian clashes left nine people dead and more than 60 injured, officials said.

Violence erupted on Friday in the garrison-city, which neighbours the capital Islamabad, when a procession by Shiite Muslims to mark the most important day of the mourning month of Muharram coincided with a sermon at a nearby Sunni mosque.

"A curfew has been imposed in Rawalpindi city to avert further violence following the incidents on Friday," Waseem Ahmed, a police official told AFP.

"The curfew will remain until midnight on Saturday. The whole city has been closed down," he said.

Deeba Shehnaz, a spokeswoman for rescue services, told AFP: "According to the latest figures, we can now confirm the death of nine people from the sectarian violence on Friday. At least 68 others were wounded during the clashes."

Angry Shiite protesters attacked the Sunni mosque and seminary, torching its building and an adjacent cloth market, where workers on Saturday were still battling to extinguish the fire completely.

Rival groups then attacked each other, TV cameramen and security forces and also fired gunshots.

The authorities deployed large numbers of troops in the city and later imposed a full curfew as soldiers patrolled the streets to stop protesters coming in from other cities.

All entry points into Rawalpindi were blocked, resulting in traffic chaos on Saturday morning that choked parts of the highways leading to Islamabad.

Pakistan is rife with sectarian clashes, with Sunni militant groups linked to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban often attacking gatherings by Shiites, who constitute some 20 per cent of the country's overwhelmingly Muslim population.

Pakistan had deployed heavy security all across the country for 10th of Muharram on Friday - which is the death anniversary of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed - to avert any terrorist attack on the mourning processions of Shiites.

Authorities had jammed mobile phone services as part of the security measures on the day, which hampered communication following the clashes. Cell phones in Rawalpindi are expected to remain unconnected for the weekend.

The Islamic month of Muharram lasts until December 5 this year and is a particularly fraught time.

Hussein was killed by the armies of the caliph Yazid in 680 AD and his death in Karbala in Iraq is mourned across the world by Shiites every year.

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