Reports indicate that mobile phone services in the city might also remain suspended for two additional days following Friday's violence. The 24-hour curfew has been imposed within the limits of 19 Rawalpindi police stations. Rawalpindi city police and a large number of army troops are now patrolling various areas in the city.

Government and police officials said that the clashes started when an Ashura procession was passing through the main Raja Bazaar. Shia Muslims were observing Ashura, which commemorates the death of Prophet Mohammed's grandson. Shias have often been targeted by terrorist groups during Muharram in recent years.

"Initial investigations suggest that some miscreants raised slogans and shouted at the participants of the procession near Fawara chowk from a seminary belonging to another sect," one police official said. "This led to some angry protesters entering the seminary and dragging out three students and beating them to their deaths," he said declining to be named.

Another official said the trouble spread when someone from the procession started firing and some protesters also grabbed the guns of the policemen leading to more deaths and violence. TV footage showed numerous shots being fired by unknown people as members of the rival groups resorted to stone-pelting and firing.

Meanwhile‚ Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has taken notice of the incident and sought a report. He directed officials to take strict action against the miscreants involved in the incident.

The district administration has warned citizens to stay at homes as violation of curfew will not be tolerated. 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.

An eyewitness saw crowds from the rival groups gathering in the hospital and chanting slogans against each other. Pakistan had deployed heavy security all across the country during Muharram to avert any terrorist attack and jammed mobile phone services in many cities.

(Agencies)

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