LAHORE - The violent clashes between the government and the Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) workers brought the routine life to a halt across the Punjab province on Saturday.
Amid fear and panic, many business centres were shut, petrol pumps were closed, and government machinery and educational activities were brought to a standstill.
The government had blocked almost all the major roads in the province to stop PAT workers from reaching Lahore for participating in Youm-e-Shuhda activities at party’s Model Town Secretariat.
At various points the PAT activists tried to break through the barriers and remove the shipping containers to clear their way. Upon resistance from police, the protesters went wild and came into bloody clashes with the police. The PAT protesters also damaged police stations, set the official record on fire, and torched police vehicles.
Three policemen were killed, 130 cops wounded and 22 were held hostage, while many police officials were still missing, a police spokesperson said. “Some cops who were held hostages by PAT workers in Sargodha district are lying on hospital beds with their broken limbs and are still in critical condition,” according to a press statement issued from the Central Police Office (CPO).
On the other hand, PAT chief Tahirul Qadri claimed that at least seven workers were killed and over a thousand were critically wounded. However, he did not provide details about those killed during armed encounter with cops. Talking to reporters in Lahore, he alleged that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had ordered direct firing at the participants of Youm-e-Shuhada arriving from other cities.
Police said that 34-year-old constable Muhammad Fayyaz was gunned down by PAT workers while 130 policemen sustained serious injuries in the clashes in the last 24 hours. Another policeman, identified as Constable Muhammad Ali Azad, was killed by unidentified gunmen near Babu Sabu interchange in Lahore. Constable Muhammad Ashraf, who was critically injured in Friday’s battles in Lahore’s Model Town, also succumbed to injuries at hospital.
According to police, PAT workers used nail-studded sticks, slings, stones, knives and other weapons during attacks on the on-duty police officials. Gujranwala District Police Officer Waqas Nazir and three DSPs were among over 55 policemen who sustained serious injuries. Nine policemen were wounded in Lahore, one in Okara, 25 in Bhakkar, 14 in Jhang, 13 in Rawalpindi region, nine in Sargodha and four in Toba Tek Singh district.
A special police team constituted by Sargodha RPO rescued 15 hostages from the clutches of PAT workers at Bhera Interchange at the motorway. During violent attacks, PAT workers destroyed police buildings, damaged police vehicles and also snatched away weapons from policemen. In district Khushab, Quid Abad police station building was completely destroyed.
In Lahore, six policemen were abducted by PAT workers and taken to the party secretariat. The PAT leaders demanded the release of their arrested workers in exchange for the policemen. The personnel, who remained hostages for a couple of hours, said they were going to their duty points when they were captured by PAT workers. According to policemen, PAT workers also snatched away official weapons from them. However, the policemen were later released.
Meanwhile, after receiving reports of violence in various cities of the Punjab province, Dr Tahirul Qadri on Saturday asked his workers to stage sit-ins wherever they were present and start recitation of the Holy Quran to protest against the tyranny of Punjab government. He announced that they would observe Youm-e-Shuhada on August 10 by holding sit-ins across the country. He warned that if he would be arrested, there would be complete chaos all over the country.
Addressing press conferences in close succession in front of his Model Town House, Dr Qadri alleged that Shahbaz Sharif had ordered the police to open straight fire on innocent and unarmed PAT workers. He said the government had crossed the limits of tyranny. Qadri also alleged that the Punjab government had ordered public sector hospitals not to provide medical treatment to the injured PAT workers. The borders linking Punjab to Sindh and Balochistan provinces were also closed down on government orders, he claimed.
On Saturday, leaders of PAT allied parties also visited Al-Qadria and attended meetings with Tahirul Qadri to finalise the strategy for the Martyrs’ Day to be observed on Sunday (today). PML-Q senior leader Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, Majlis-e-Wahdat-ul-Muslimeen chief Allama Raja Nasir Abbas, Sunni Ittehad Council chief Sahibzada Hamid Raza, and Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed visited Dr Qadri’s house.
Talking to media on the occasion, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed said the government was giving a message that Imran Khan’s party was a democratic force while PAT was not. He said the government wanted to deal with two parties differently. He reiterated his claim that both the parties, PAT and PTI, would join hands on August 14.
On Saturday evening, the Punjab Inspector General of Police (IGP) ordered the police the remove all the containers to clear the roads for general public. Lahore police had forcibly impounded dozens of shipping containers including some loaded with goods, to block the roads on Thursday. The traders protested against the police highhandedness but neither the government paid rent to the owners nor released the containers. Police were trying to clear the roads but many arteries were found blocked with shipping containers till late Saturday.