KARACHI, Pakistan — Riot police clashed Saturday with anti-government protesters who attacked government offices and burned vehicles across Pakistan, and witnesses said police shot 12 people in Karachi.
Army units were deployed for the first time since nationwide protests began Thursday to demand the release of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and to denounce the government of President Zia ul-Haq.
However, the crowds of protesters were smaller Saturday, probably because of weekend preparations to observe the major Muslim holiday of Eid al Adha.
Bhutto, leader of the Pakistan People's Party, was arrested Thursday after leading a protest march and rally in Karachi, and authorities have said she will be held for 30 days. Bhutto, 33, is the daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was ousted as prime minister by Zia in a 1977 military coup and was hanged two years later on a disputed charge of conspiring to kill a political opponent.
Flour Mill Set Afire
In Karachi, the nation's largest city with 5.1 million people, witnesses said police fired rifles and shotguns at a crowd that had set fire to a flour mill and prevented firefighters from extinguishing the blaze.
The witnesses said 12 people were wounded and some people in the crowd fired back, wounding two police officers. No serious injuries were reported.
Witnesses said opposition supporters also set fire to a bank and bus depot in Karachi. Small groups stoned buses and vehicles, fleeing before police could seize them.
Similar clashes were reported throughout southern Pakistan, and government opponents held protest marches in Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi.
Government officials Saturday confirmed that at least two policemen had been shot since Thursday and widespread disturbances had occurred in Sind province in the southeast.
Thousands of people attacked police stations and jails, freed prisoners and burned government offices, banks and businesses in three days of clashes, they said.
Arrests Sparked Riots
Rioting began after the government arrested 500 opposition leaders Wednesday to keep them from holding rallies Thursday, Pakistan's independence day. Bhutto and other opposition leaders refused to call off the protests.
Zia, who was visiting Saudi Arabia, issued a message Saturday through the Information Ministry calling on Pakistan to reject dissension. "We should rise above all types of personal and parochial interests and regional prejudices, work for our country's integrity, solidarity and progress," he said.
Local journalists said military patrols were deployed in the Thatta and Badin districts of Sind province.
A crowd nevertheless set fire to three bank offices in Thatta on Saturday and attacked a railway station after clashing with supporters of the governing Pakistan Muslim League, witnesses said. They said police looked on without intervening in the clash.