ISLAMABAD - Violent clashes between police and supporters of Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PTI) and Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) continued in the federal capital’s restricted Red Zone for a second day on Sunday. The unrest spiralled into street battles, leaving three people dead and more than 500 injured.

Constitution Avenue, the main boulevard housing several state buildings, wore the look of a battleground, with police shelling tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse stone-throwing marchers.

Activists demanding Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s resignation have camped outside government offices for more than two weeks but it was the first time violence broke out Saturday night as protesters, on the call of their leaders, marched towards a new venue for protest – the PM House.

Police responded with teargas and rubber bullets, triggering battles that continued whole night. Skirmishes continued into the day on Sunday, with police baton-charging and tear-gassing the protesters.

Many protesters too came armed with batons and slingshots loaded with pebbles. Shipping containers were set ablaze and several vehicles were torched. Hundreds of tear gas canisters lay strewn on the ground on Islamabad’s normally pristine Constitution Avenue after almost 24 hours of battle.

Small groups of protesters blocked the main expressway linking the city to the airport. They forced traffic to a halt by putting tree branches and rocks on the road. There were also reports that a group of up to 15 teenage protesters armed with bamboo sticks and rocks attacked a vehicle carrying three United Nations staff members near the protest zone. “Their vehicle was damaged but they escaped unhurt,” a UN source said.

A good part of the crowd massing outside parliament appeared peaceful on Sunday, with some dancing or sleeping on the grass. However, by (Sunday) nightfall some protesters were preparing for fresh clashes, breaking up the road to throw chunks. They also wore improvised gas masks from cloth and plastic bottles.

Police also brutally assaulted many journalists, seriously wounding seven of them. Hospitals in Islamabad had declared emergency as wounded continue to land at the capital’s health facilities. Smaller protests were also reported in the city of Lahore, political power base of ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), and other parts of the country.

“I am prepared to die here. I have learnt that government plans a major crackdown against us tonight,” PTI Chairman Imran Khan told his supporters. “I am here till my last breath.” Khan told the cheering crowd to challenge security forces protecting the parliament and the prime minister’s house.

“The way you stood up last night, you have to stand up today also,” he said. “We will face them and make them run away this time.”

PAT chief Dr Tahirul Qadri, who has rallied thousands of his own supporters alongside those of Imran Khan, said protests would not subside unless PM Sharif resigned. “State atrocities have reached their peak,” he told his supporters, standing on top of a shipping container. “Imran Khan and Dr Qadri are fighting this war together,” he enthused.

Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) in Islamabad received 278 patients including 136 male, 36 female, five children and 80 police officials. “Three political activists, one of PTI and two affiliated with PAT, succumbed to their injuries. PIMS spokesman Dr Wasim Khwaja told The Nation that a board of physicians had been constituted to ascertain the cause of death of the three persons.

Polyclinic hospital near the protest venue received 275 wounded, a large majority of them protesters. “We have received 257 injured, half of them are female. Nobody is in serious condition. All of the patients being treated here or either hit by rubber bullets or have suffered intoxication due to tear gas,” Emergency In-charge Dr Yasir told The Nation.

Similarly, Capital Development Authority (CDA) Hospital at Melody received 10 injured political activists of PAT, four of them females.

PTI Chief Imran Khan in his speech said that one of his supporters named Sultan died due to a bullet injury. The police had transported his body to Attock to conceal evidence, he added.

Amid criticism on police for using force against protesters, Senior Superintendent Police Muhammad Ali reportedly refused to order resistance against the protesters forcing authorities to appoint a substitute who too refused to order attack on protesters. According to sources, the police officers went on leave after not bowing to higher police authorities’ call to use force against protesters. “The SSP was of the view that the police should not encounter the protesters. He preferred to leave office later,” a police official told The Nation.

Major commercial markets in Islamabad including shops in Blue Area were closed. Petrol stations were shut down as the protesters had gone berserk by torching cars and buildings. Violent clashes near Pak Secretariat broke between the protesters and police hurling stones at each other as the marchers tried to remove the containers placed by authorities for stopping entry of more incoming political workers into the main protest venue near the Parliament building.

The battles between protesters and police reached G-7 and G-8 sectors, where political activist set motorbikes on fire besides hurling stones at police in an effort to make their way to the main venue in the Red Zone. Protesters also entered Kulsoom underpass on 7th Avenue, and the road was blocked with bricks and billboards. China Chowk underpass near Policlinic hospital was also blocked by activists. Police deputed at D-Chowk also gave tough time to PTI supporters marching towards the Constitution Avenue where Imran Khan was waiting for them. The capital witnessed a lull in the later hours of night.