( AP ) - A U.S. diplomat met with detained opposition leader Benazir Bhutto Thursday, while she and another rival of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf opened talks on forming an alliance against him. The political unrest worsened, leaving two children dead, officials said.
Unidentified protesters opened "indiscriminate gunfire" in a violence-ridden neighborhood of Karachi, killing two boys aged 11 and 12, police officer Aslam Gujjar said.
The violence happened in the city's Chakiwara neighborhood, where Bhutto supporters clashed with police. The protesters, angry at Bhutto's current house arrest in the eastern city of Lahore, traded fire with police who also used tear gas to try and disperse them.
Police said two protesters suffered gunshot wounds and heaving firing was continuing.
Meanwhile, Bryan Hunt, the U.S. consul general in Lahore, was allowed to cross the barricades and heavy police cordon surrounding the house where Bhutto has been confined since Tuesday.
Hunt emerged an hour later and said he had told Bhutto of Washington's wish for Musharraf to lift the state of emergency, quit as army chief and free opposition politicians and the media.
"We need to move as rapidly as possible to have free and fair elections held on time," Hunt said.
Bhutto told The Associated Press Thursday that Washington is concerned about a power vacuum in Pakistan if Musharraf is forced to leave office, but said she told Hunt that she could not work with the general.
"He came to find out whether I could work with Gen. Musharraf, and I told him that it was very difficult to work with someone who instead of taking us toward democracy took us back toward military dictatorship," she told the AP.
On Wednesday, a White House spokeswoman said Musharraf should relent "immediately." Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte is due in Islamabad on Friday.
In an Associated Press interview Wednesday, Musharraf said he expects to quit as chief of the army by the end of November, heralding a return to civilian rule. However, he rejected Western pressure to quickly end the emergency.
Nov. 15 marks the end of the current Parliament's five-year term. Musharraf's concurrent presidential mandate also expires Thursday, though he has extended it by calling the state of emergency that has cast Pakistan into a deep political crisis.
A caretaker administration will be charged with guiding Pakistan toward parliamentary elections to be held by Jan. 9. The vote is supposed to complete the restoration of democratic rule in Pakistan, eight years after Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup.
However, both opposition parties and Western governments say that the vote cannot be considered free and fair unless the general quickly lifts the emergency, which many in Pakistan are equating with martial law.
Musharraf seized extraordinary powers on Nov. 3 and used them to detain thousands of opposition and human rights activists, purge the senior judiciary and black out independent TV news channels.
The United States still counts Musharraf as a stalwart ally in its war on terror. But it wants him to share power with other moderates, such as Bhutto, to harness more political support for Pakistan's struggle against Islamic extremists while also ending military rule.
Musharraf says the main purpose of the emergency is to protect the effort against extremism from interfering judges and political turbulence.
He said rising Islamic militancy required him to stay in control of the troubled nation though left the door open for future cooperation with Bhutto if she wins the January vote.
"Emergency is in fact meant to make sure that elections are held in a peaceful manner," Musharraf said. "I take decisions in Pakistan's interest and I don't take ultimatums from anyone."
The crackdown on dissent has triggered a rapid downward spiral in his relations with Bhutto, a pro-Western secularist like himself but also a fierce political competitor.
Bhutto called Tuesday for Musharraf to leave power and joined other opposition parties in threatening to boycott the election. On Wednesday, she telephoned Nawaz Sharif, whose government was ousted in Musharraf's coup, to discuss setting up an opposition coalition, a spokesman for her Pakistan People's Party said.
Musharraf is refusing to let Sharif return from exile in Saudi Arabia before the elections.
"She talked about the need for cooperation by all political parties on a one-point agenda aimed at the restoration of the constitution, lifting of emergency and holding free and fair elections," said spokesman Farhatullah Babar. Babar said no decisions had been made.
Bhutto says she also has spoken to Imran Khan, the cricketer-turned-politician who was seized by Islamist students at a university campus on Wednesday and handed over to police.
On Thursday, more than 2,000 students rallied at the same campus in the eastern city of Lahore, chanting "Long live Imran Khan" and "Go Musharraf go."
Khan's detention meant that all of Musharraf's most outspoken opponents are either in custody or exile.
State television said an announcement about the caretaker government was expected later Thursday.
A senior Cabinet minister said that Mohammedmian Soomro, chairman of the upper house of Parliament, was a strong candidate for the key position of caretaker prime minister.
"I see him as the caretaker prime minister, but any final decision will be announced by President Musharraf," Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad told the AP.
Pakistani media say that a retired general serving as ambassador to Turkey, Iftikhar Hussein Shah, and a former central bank governor, Ishrat Hussain, are also in the running.
Babar, the Bhutto spokesman, said the caretaker government's makeup was irrelevant so long as Musharraf remained in power.