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Armed men disrupt Karachi cultural festival over photo montage

(PPF/IFEX) - Armed assailants stormed the Arts Council in the Pakistani capital, Karachi, on 8 April 2009, ransacking the Shanakht Cultural Festival and accusing organisers of "political blasphemy". The event was organised by the Citizens Archives of Pakistan (CAP).

The attackers were outraged by a photo montage depicting former leaders of the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto, along with other Pakistani rulers, in an unflattering manner. Bhutto was depicted resting on the lap of her arch rival, former president General Zia-ul-Haq. The offending image was posted on the blog of cyber activist Awab Alvi at http://teeth.com.pk/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/n513812365_1579700_6371905.jpg

At around 8:00 p.m. (local time) armed men had an altercation with the organisers over the photo. The enraged men tore down festival banners and ransacked the offices of the Arts Council. They also herded private security guards and a handful of police officers present, spreading panic among the visitors. Hurling abuses, they ordered all the visitors to leave the premises immediately, while some warned photographers not to take pictures of the attack.

Provincial Information Minister Shazia Marri, who visited the scene, deplored the incident, saying that emotions must be contained at all cost. She announced an inquiry into the matter and said that the government would like to see the festival continue.

PPP's district central general secretary, Sohail Abdi, said that the party found the exhibit offensive and would lodge a criminal complaint against the organisers.

Deputy superintendant of police Salman Hussain, who visited the site after the incident, refuted the claim that the culprits belonged to any political party and said that no criminal complaint had been lodged against the assailants.

In a statement, the CAP said that the festival had invited contributions in any form by Pakistanis. CAP sincerely apologised that one of the contributions had offended some people and said they had removed the offending photo from the exhibition.

The organisers have since decided to cancel the festival, citing security concerns.

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