Two killed ahead of rallies in Pakistan

By Xinhua

Islamabad : Gunmen shot dead two opposition party workers in Karachi early Saturday, adding fears that rival rallies by the suspended chief justice and President Pervez Musharraf could descend into violence.

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The private Geo TV quoted police as saying that the men were gunned down in the southern Pakistani city as they put up banners in support of suspended chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who is due to address lawyers and supporters there later in the day.

Meanwhile Musharraf's supporters are set to flex their muscles after two months of silence with a counter-demonstration in Karachi and a huge rally by the ruling government party in the capital Islamabad.

Musharraf dismissed Chaudhry on March 9 on charges that the latter abused power, unleashing a wave of nationwide protests and turning the judge into a symbol of defiance.

More than 15,000 police and paramilitary troops have been deployed in Karachi for Saturday's rallies. The city practically shut down overnight and several main roads have been blocked by lorries with deflated tyres.

Karachi police chief Azhar Farooqi said investigations were underway to find the killers of the two activists from the party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted by Musharraf in 1999. Another worker was injured.

"There is a very tense situation in the city now," he said. The opposition blamed the killings on the pro-Musharraf Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).