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Pakistan's Imran Khan Barred From Karachi

Imran Khan: "It's shameful."

Imran Khan: "It's shameful."

KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) -- Pakistani authorities have stopped cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan from traveling to the southern city of Karachi because of fear his trip could trigger violence in the commercial hub.

Last week, at least 27 people were killed in clashes in Karachi between rival ethnic-based factions, another security worry for the nuclear-armed country already battling a wave of Islamist militant violence.

"It's shameful," Khan told reporters at the airport in the city of Lahore where authorities stopped him boarding a flight to Karachi. "Under what law can they stop a Pakistani citizen going to Karachi? Isn't Karachi a city of Pakistan?"

The violence in Pakistan's biggest city resulted from tension between Mohajirs, the descendents of Urdu-speaking people who migrated from India after the creation of Pakistan in 1947, and ethnic Pashtuns from the northwest.

Khan, who heads his own small party, is Pashtun.

Tension in Karachi has been building as Mohajirs, who dominate the city's administration, have become suspicious of a Pashtun community that has strong Islamist sympathies, following a surge in militancy in the northwest.

Message Of Peace

The Karachi violence dented investor confidence. The Karachi Stock Exchange benchmark 100-share index ended 0.95 percent, or 69.20 points lower at 7,202 points on April 30.

May 1 was a market holiday.

Khan said he had been hoping to take a message of peace to Karachi, home to more than 16 million including the largest concentration of Pashtuns outside the Northwest Frontier Province, where a Taliban insurgency rages.

"We're trying to forge unity among all ethnic groups, but Altaf Hussein considers Karachi his property and stopped us," Khan said, referring to the chief of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) that represents Mohajirs.

The MQM has been the dominant political force in Karachi for years. It is part of a provincial coalition government led by President Asif Ali Zardari's Pakistan People's Party.

The government of Sindh Province, of which Karachi is capital, on May 2 issued an order banning Khan from the province for a month.

Following last week's violence, authorities barred rallies and ordered security forces to shoot trouble-makers on sight to restore order.

Provincial home secretary Arif Khan told Reuters the ban on Khan was aimed at averting more trouble.

Scores of workers from Khan's Tehrik-e-Insaaf, or Movement of Justice, party took to the streets in Karachi to portest his exclusion, blocking a main road in the port city for some time.