LAHORE/KARACHI A complete strike was observed in Lahore and several other cities of the country on Saturday to mourn Data Darbar tragedy. Various political and religious parties also staged angry protests across the country to condemn the Thursdays suicide attacks.
Rallies were held in Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi and several other cities, with demonstrators shouting slogans against terrorism and extremism. Shops and business centres remained shut in Lahore for the strike called by a religious alliance.
The police also detained several protesters during clashes, which erupted in Lahore following protesters attempt to set commercial centres on fire. About a dozen protesters and policemen sustained injuries during the clashes.
The police also fired warning shots and tear gas shells to disperse protesters as angry mob wielding batons attacked commercial markets and smashed windowpanes of several shops and vehicles.
One the other hand, the investigators are grilling several key terror suspects detained day after the terrorist strike to reach the mastermind behind the suicide attacks, which left 46 people dead and over 170 others injured.
The investigations took a new twist after the police declared the man earlier identified through CCTV footage as 'innocent devotee and not a 'suicide bomber.
After the blasts, the police investigators identified one of the bombers as Usman Yasin alias Rafique Baba, resident of Hadiara village, located in the outskirts of Lahore. The police also picked up his two brothers and four friends and after brief interrogation, all were declared innocent.
The police released the detainees and handed over the body of Usman alias Rafique Baba to the victims family. Later, he was buried in his native village. According to the locals, Usman used to visit Data Darbar every Thursday. He also fell victim to the blasts and died on the spot there but the police mistakenly declared him a suicide bomber.
Sources close to the Joint Investigation Team said that the detectives are working on different important leads to expose those behind the cowardly act of terrorism.
'Investigators have got some very important clues and investigations are underway. At this stage everything is confidential, a high-placed source said but did not mention any further details due to the sensitivity of the issue.
The City was presented a deserted look on Saturday, as there was no public transport on the roads due to the wheel-jam strike.
Hundreds of people belonging to religious parties took out rallies from different parts of the City and marched towards Mall Road. They were carrying placards and banners inscribed with slogans against suicide bombing and terrorism. The protesters also chanted slogans against the government.
The Sunni Ittehad Council, an alliance group of several religious parties, had given the strike call.
The protesters also staged sit-in outside the Lahore Press Club to condemn the innocent killings.
Protesters ransacked restaurants and shops at The Mall, and damaged three vehicles, eyewitnesses said. The police reached the spot but failed to stop them as protesters started pelting stones on them.
The policemen used batons and also fired warning shots to disperse the angry protesters. They arrested more than a dozen protesters but later they were released, police sources said.
Meanwhile, various religious organisations staged protests at different places of the City including Ghari Shahu, Ghaziabad and Millat Road against the terror attacks.
All the leading markets and business centers in the City including Hall Road, Mall Road, Liberty Market, Neela Gunbad, Anarkali, Akbari Mandi, Auto Market Badami Bagh and other shopping malls remained closed.
Rangers took control of Data Darbar to ensure foolproof security during the visit of VVIPs including Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Interior Minister Rehman Malik and other leading political leaders.
The VVIPs visited the shrine to pay homage to the patron saint of the Sub-Continent Ali Bin Usman Hajvery (RA).
Karachi also mourned the massacre at Data Darbar. The City wore a deserted look and all private, official and commercial activities were suspended and there was no public and private transport present on the streets.
MQM, JUI, Anjuman-e-Talba-e-Islam, Sunni Tehrik, Sunni Council and Jamaat Ahle Sunnat also gave the call to observe Saturday as day of mourning and requested the people to shut their business as a mark of respect to those who were martyred at the shrine in Lahore.
MQM hoisted black flags and banners at the important places of the City and their offices. They also organised Quran Khawani and observed Black Day.
All the major markets including North Nazimabad, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, North Karachi, Gulistan-e-Jauhar, PIB Colony, Liaquatabad, New MA Jinnah Road, Bolton Market and Sadr were closed. Public transport was thin, while majority of the petrol and CNG stations were also closed causing difficulties to public.
University of Karachi also cancelled the schedule of Masters exam.
Certain rural outskirts and spatial settlement in the city including Pathan Colony, Qasba Morr, Machar Colony, Baldia Town, Orangi Town, Tin Hatti, Gujjar Nullah, Paposh Nagar, Shahnawaz Bhutto Colony, Akhtar Colony, Keamari were also affected due to non-availability of public transport.
Different Sunni organisations also staged protest demonstration at MA Jinnah Road and demanded immediate action against the culprits who were behind the incident at Data Darbar.
There were some unconfirmed reports that Mubina Town police had also detained three activists of different political and religious outfits when they were trying to forcibly close the shops near Met Department.
According to a police source, some areas of the City were affected due to law and order situation, intermittent aerial firing was also reported in Lyari, Docks, Machar Colony, Lines area and New Karachi. The source further informed that unidentified miscreants also torched a vehicle (ANJ-930) at Lines area.
Agencies add: A protest demonstration was organised in Rawalpindi which passed through Benazir Shaheed Road.
Hyderabad witnessed complete strike where markets remained closed and black flags were hoisted on roads on the call given by the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) against the suicide blasts at Data Darbar.
Partial strike was observed in Larkana with black flags waving at some places of the city. Protests were also held in Nawabshah on the call of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) with black flags raised at various places.
The Sunni Tehreek (ST) also staged a sit-in in front of the Press Club in Dadu. Protest rallies were taken out in Noshehro Feroz against Data Darbar tragedy.
Complete strike was observed in Mirpurkhas, Sanghar and Tando Adam.
Partial strike was observed in Faisalabad on the appeal by various political and religious parties. In Gojra, strike was organised by various organisations of Ahle Sunnat and trade groups. Gujranwala also witnessed protest demonstrations to express solidarity with the deceased in the Data Darbar suicide blasts. Partial strike was observed in Multan.
Stick-wielding youth forced the closure of shops opened in the morning in Kalay Mandi. The lawyers of Bahawalpur District boycotted the courts in protest against the tragedy. A rally was taken out from Noorul Masajid under aegis of Jamaat Ahle Sunnat in Cheechawatni. A protest demonstration was organised in Rahim Yar Khan from Lakkar Mandi to Railway Chowk under auspices of Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan. Later on, a rally was also taken out. Partial strike was observed in Hub against the tragedy on the call by Jamaat Ahle Sunnat.