LAHORE - Violent clashes erupted between police and PAT workers in Lahore’s Faisal Town neighbourhood on Friday after the followers of Dr Tahirul Qadri attacked the on-guard cops to clear the barriers placed around in bid to avert gathering of more activists in the area.
Qadri, a cleric who wants to topple the present regime within weeks, has announced to observe August 10 as Youm-e-Shuhda (in the memory of those killed by police in Model Town in June). Police is trying to prevent his followers from gathering at the Minhajul Quran Secretariat, from where the Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) chief plans to march on Islamabad.
The planned demonstrations of PAT and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Isaf (PTI), which has its separate plan of dislodging the government through their ‘Azadi March’ on August 14, have unnerved Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz's (PML-N) fledgling government. Qadri says the government is corrupt and Khan says it is failing to investigate election irregularities.
Eyewitnesses said the clashes broke out when hundreds of Qadri’s supporters, all of a sudden, started pelting police with stones in a bid to remove shipping containers placed to block the roads and restrict the movement of agitators. They also brought a crane to move the containers blocking off the residence of Qadri and Minhaj Secretariat. Police responded with firing tear-gas shells and battening the protesters.
Lahore DIG (Operations) Dr Haider Ashraf confirmed to TheNation that more than 150 PAT workers were arrested after violent clashes in Faisal Town. “The situation is under control at this moment and heavy police contingents are on-guard to keep the things under control,” he said late Friday.
Dozens of policemen including three station house officers (SHOs) sustained head injuries and were rushed to the Jinnah hospital, where they were being treated. A number of protesters were also wounded in the clashes and some others fell unconscious because of massive tear-gas shelling.
The clashes were not restricted to Lahore alone as at least one PAT worker was killed and dozens injured in battles with police in different other cities of Punjab. A PAT activist was reported killed and seven injured by police firing in Bhakkar. Abdul Majeeb, 26, was shot dead during clashes between Qadri supporters and police in Bhakkar, Dr Saad Ahmad of Nishtar hospital in Multan told the media.
The PAT workers also clashed with police in Dipalpur town of Okara district that left over a dozen injured. The police managed to arrest 300 protesters after the clash in Okara. Charged Qadri supporters reportedly also set a police station on fire in Quiadabad area of Khushab. Policemen fled the station when the PAT workers stormed it. However, police claimed that four personnel, including a DSP, were held hostage by the workers. Police also claimed that PAT workers looted the police weapons.
Earlier in the day, Qadri urged his followers to remove all barriers and overcome all obstacles and continue converging at his residence to join the march on the federal government to overthrow the government. All the entry and exit points of Lahore were sealed and snap-checking was intensified on Friday evening to keep a check on the activities of the PAT activists.
The fight between police and PAT workers began at Faisal Town road near Kotha Pind and spread to the entire locality. At one movement, the policemen were left with no choice but to flee from the place of duty to save their lives. The PAT workers chased the cops and again attacked them near Captain Qazi Jawad Shaheed Chowk. A number of PAT workers were seen beating a policeman as he pleaded to the protesters to spare him.
When the situation seemed totally out of hand, more police contingents were called in. Within an hour, hundreds of policemen reached there on buses and retaliated with massive tear-gas shelling and firing rubber bullets. The PAT activists responded by pelting the police with stones and bricks. The local residents had to confine themselves to the four walls of their homes. Eyewitnesses said that a few tear-gas shells also landed inside the houses. Police also claimed of seizing a tractor-trolley loaded with bricks from the possession of PAT workers which they believed were to be used against them.
Lahore police Wednesday had booked the PAT chairman for ‘waging war’ against the state, hurling threats, and inciting violence. Official sources say they believe Qadri’s public sermons and statements come under the ambit of civil disobedience, which is why a case was registered against him.
Police on Thursday lay siege on his house and nearby party secretariat besides blocking main roads leading to the area by erecting barriers and placing containers in Lahore’s Model Town neighbourhood. Soon after the police registered a criminal case against Qadri, heavy police contingents were deployed around Minhajul Quran Secretariat to cope with any emergent situation. Several police pickets were also set up in the locality and barriers were erected to restrict the movement of PAT workers.
Some unconfirmed reports said the provincial hierarchy was planning to launch an even bigger operation at the PAT Secretariat to arrest Qadri. A private TV channel claimed that the government, in principle, had decided to arrest Qadri and police could launch the ‘Capture Qadri’ operation anytime.