KARACHI - At least three officers of Pakistan International Airlines were killed and 17 wounded yesterday when shots were fired during clashes between the security personnel and the protesting PIA employees at Jinnah International Airport.

The Joint Action Committee of the employees vowed to continue its countrywide protest against the proposed privatization of Pakistan International Airlines, demanding registration of a case against various federal ministers and senators for killing the innocent protesters.

Following the call of the Joint Action Committee, hundreds of PIA employees gathered outside the airline’s headquarters and staged a peaceful protest. As the charged mob started moving toward the airport, the law-enforcers, including police and Rangers, tried to stop them at the cargo gate. The law enforcers also deployed tear gas shells and used water cannon as the protesters attempted to force their way into the cargo gate.

During the clash, 12 officials of the national flag carrier, including Assistant Manager Communication Inayat Raza, Aircraft Engineer Saleem Akhtar and M Zubair, assistant in Human Resources Department, sustained bullet wounds. They were shifted to a private hospital and Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) where the three succumbed to their injuries while nine were admitted to JPMC for medical treatment. One of them was critical.

However, Rangers spokesperson and DIG of East Zone, Karachi, claimed no police and Rangers personnel fired on protesters at the airport. However, East DIG Kamran Fazal, while talking to reporters at the Karachi airport , said bullet shells were collected to ascertain who opened fire on the protesters. He claimed the bullets were not fired by the police. “We had instructed our personnel not to handle the protesters violently. We are trying to find out who started the clash,” Fazal added.

Several journalists, including TV cameramen Agha Rafiq and Shafiq Dilshad as well as a reporter, were also injured during the clash as security officials also dispersed media persons covering the incident.

PIA employees’ Joint Action Committee Chairman Captain Suhail Baloch alleged Rangers killed the employees of PIA. He said not only PIA’s operation but also the entire aviation system would be shut in protest against privatisation of PIA.

Nasarullah, the spokesperson for the Joint Action Committee, while talking to The Nation, said three PIA workers were killed and at least 17, including women, injured. He added the PIA employees were staging peaceful protest, but the government adopted a shameful way and resorted to firing on the unarmed people. He explained the protest rally route had been settled by the SP and the JAC officebearers while the police had allowed the peaceful protest and sit-in near the airport. “Rangers started to baton charge and fire on peaceful protesters near the cargo gate,” he alleged. Nasarullah said the JAC had sought registration of a case against Federal Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed, Senator Ishaq Dar, Senator Mushahid Ullah Khan, Aviation Secretary Irfan Elahi, GM Security PIA Brig (r) Asif and others, but the police had not booked anyone. “We demand registration of an FIR against the said figures over killings of the PIA officials. The protest will continue till acceptance of our demands,” he further said.

Meanwhile, PIA spokesman Daniyal Gilani, while taking to The Nation, said 120 flights of the national flag carrier were scheduled yesterday and the flight operation was smoothly running till the killings. Following the incident, 21 flights, including an international flight for Beijing, stood cancelled, he admitted. He pointed out that the PIA had so far suffered around Rs one billion loss due to the protest. He declined to comment upon the further policy of the PIA administration for the settlement of the issue.

He further said PIA Chairman Nasser NS Jaffer visited the injured employees of PIA at Jinnah and Agha Khan hospitals. During his visit, he said PIA had urged the government to thoroughly investigate the incident of firing at the protesters.

The chairman also extended deep condolences to the families of the deceased PIA employees.

Separately, PALPA General Secretary Capt Sohail Ahmed said that due to the law and order situation, the association had stopped the pilots from going to the airport in view of their security. He condemned the way administration had adopted to deal with the striking PIA staffers. He said the PIA staffers and the members of pilots’ association were eyewitnesses that the law enforcers resorted to indiscriminate firing.

Meanwhile, thousands of passengers, including local and international, got stuck inside the airport and hundreds of them were unable to reach their destinations.

PIA Chairman Nasser Jaffer announced Tuesday evening that he has resigned from his post following the death of PIA employees.

He announced this while talking to a private TV channel. “I have resigned from the post,” said the PIA chairman while in tears.

He expressed grief over the deaths of the PIA employees and lamented at the events which led to their deaths. “My conscience doesn’t allow me to head the organisation anymore,” he said.

Jaffer said he was abandoning ship because the people were not willing to accept his advice anymore. He said he has sent his resignation to the prime minister.

“Fearing the backlash of the protests I had repeatedly requested Joint Action Committee chief Sohail Baloch to resolve the matter through dialogue, but in vain,” Jaffer said.

He urged the protesting employees to hold dialogue with the government, “they will listen to your demands”.