by Misbah Saba, Saadia Sehar
ISLAMABAD, April 3 (Xinhua) -- At least 17 people were killed and nearly 50 others injured in clashes that broke out in Pakistan's northern province of Gilgit Baltistan on Tuesday, local media reported.
Clashes first broke out in the province's capital Gilgit on Tuesday at about 9:00 a.m. local time, when police tried to disperse large crowds of Sunni Muslims protesting in different parts of the city over the arrest of their leader and other people.
Angry protesters opened fire and pelt stones at the anti-riot police, leaving several officers injured.
A hand grenade was thrown into the protesting crowds, injuring 25 people, said eye witnesses at the scene.
Local media speculated that the hand grenade could have been thrown by the rival Shiites.
At least seven people were killed and 48 others injured in the clashes in Gilgit, said local TV channel Dunya News.
An hour after the clashes broke out, the local authorities announced a curfew in the city and army was also called in to control the situation.
Soldiers were given orders to shoot at anyone who defied the curfew order, the local media reported.
A total of 14 people have reportedly been arrested in the city following the clashes.
Hours after the curfew was imposed in Gilgit, reports came in about clashes in the neighboring city of Chilas, some 50 km south of Gilgit.
Angry people in support of the Sunni Muslims protesting in Gilgit took to streets and set at least five buses on fire. Traffic on the Karakoram Highway, an artery connecting the northern part of the country with inner Pakistan, was suspended in the section running through Chilas.
On Tuesday afternoon, unidentified gunmen stopped a passenger bus in the Bonar Das area of Chilas and ordered the people to get off and then sprayed bullets on them.
Ten passengers picked out by the gunmen were killed, and their attackers later pushed the bus into a river, local media AAJ reported.
The identities of the killed are not known yet.
Meanwhile, a police officer and his bodyguard were also injured while driving to a bus station in the city to provide security for the passengers from Rawalpindi, a garrison city of the country's capital Islamabad.
The deteriorating situation in Chilas had prompted the local authorities to impose a curfew there.
On March 28, police in Gilgit detained a leader and some supporters of a local Sunni group on their alleged involvement in firing at a rally held on March 4 by a rival Shiite group in protest against the killing of 18 Shiite Muslims, which left three people including a soldier wounded.
On February 28, a Gilgit-bound passenger bus from Rawalpindi was stopped by unknown gunmen in Kohistan, a district near Gilgit. The gunmen, reportedly dress in army uniforms, ordered all the Shiite Muslims on the bus to get off and then sprayed bullets on them, leaving 18 killed on the spot. An anti-Shiite group " Jundullah" later claimed responsibility for the attack.