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Sectarian clashes leave seven dead in Pakistan

Pakistani Shiite Muslims torch shops following clashes during an Ashura procession in Rawalpindi, on November 15, 2013
Pakistani Shiite Muslims torch shops following clashes during an Ashura procession in Rawalpindi, on November 15, 2013

Sectarian clashes in Pakistan's garrison city Rawalpindi left seven people dead and over 30 injured on Friday as worshippers massed to mourn the seventh century martyrdom of Hussain, the grandson of prophet Mohammad, officials said.

The clashes erupted in Rawalpindi, the neighbouring city of the capital Islamabad, when a procession by Shiite Muslims in the main downtown area coincided with a sermon in a nearby Sunni mosque.

"The death toll from the clashes have reached seven people and 34 others are injured," Muhammad Shoaib, an official at Rawalpindi's district hospital, told AFP.

Police said private properties were also set on fire during the clashes.

"The clashes started when a sermon was being delivered from a Sunni mosque which was on the procession route. The infuriated Shiites attacked the mosque and also set fire to a cloth market," Waseem Ahmed, a police official said.

Another police official said shots rang out during the fighting and that the authorities were braced for further injuries.

"According to latest reports, gunshots were also fired during the clashes. We fear there will be more casualties," Muhammad Yasir, an official at a police control room, told AFP.

Media reports said large contingents of troops were deployed in the city following the clashes and forces used tear gas to disperse the rival groups.

According to AFP photo and video journalists, violent youths attacked rival groups and also broke the cameras of reporters who arrived on scene.

Video footage also showed participants of the procession beating policemen.

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

The month of Muharram, when Shiites mourn Hussain's martyrdom, is a particularly fraught time.

Pakistan had deployed heavy security all across the country during Muharram to avert any terrorist attack and jammed mobile phone services, which hampered communication following the clashes.

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

Millions of Shiites from around the world mark Ashura, the climax of Muharram, by holding processions, beating their chests and self-flagellating to express guilt for not coming to his aid.

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