LAHORE - Protests in Punjab continued for the third day on Friday despite stern warnings by the government.

Religious activists protesting against the acquittal of Christian woman Aasia Bibi turned out in cities and towns across the province, defying the government warnings.

The provincial officials warned that citizens should stay indoors as protests spread to every nook and corner of the province following Friday prayers. Rescue workers said angry mob attacked and damaged a few vehicles of the Edhi Ambulance service near Shahdara.

Universities, colleges, and schools have already been closed across the province. Similarly, shops, business centers, and markets remained closed on the third consecutive day on Friday. Authorities also suspended mobile phone and internet services in many districts of the province.

Clashes also erupted between protesters and motorists over roadblocks in different parts. Transporters also observed a strike on the call of TLP across Punjab. Heavy transport vehicles were seen stuck on both sides of the national highways.

A police spokesman said that at least six policemen including a DSP-rank officer were hospitalised with multiple wounds during the clashes.

The intercity transports and metro bus service also remained suspended. The TLP followers have occupied Faisal Chowk Mall Road, Qartaba Chowk, Jail Road, Chungi Amarsidhu, Azadi Flyover, Shahdara Chowk, Daroghewala Chowk, Kahna, Khayaban Chowk, Shadman Market, China Chowk, Railways Crossing near Imamia Colony, Lahore Bridge Phatak, Kot Lakhpat, Mohalanwal Chowk, Shahkam Chowk, Model Town Phatak, Ichhra, Shimla Hills, Model Town Link Road, Main Boulevard Gulberg, Quaid-e-Azam interchange, Mughlapura and Harbanspura underpasses, and Thokar Niaz Baig Chowk besides other points.

Following Friday prayers, large crowds took to streets in different Punjab cities on the call given by the TLP leaders and chanted anti-government slogans. The TLP leaders have been staging a sit-in in front of the Punjab Assembly.

Angry protesters carrying sticks attacked motorcyclists at different points as they tried to break the blockade. One video-clip shows mob setting a bus, cars and motorcycles on fire on the Lahore-Islamabad motorway. In another clip, protesters attacked a vendor in Sheikhupura and snatched away bananas from the donkey-cart.

All major wholesale and retail markets and shopping centres in the provincial capital remained shut. There were also reports of short supply of several edible items, including vegetables, mineral water and other kitchen items.  Traders said that industrial as well as commercial activities also came to a standstill owing to lack of public transport amid.

The supply of petrol to the provincial capital and other major cities of the province was also affected. Following the protest, many traders’ association of the city and other parts of the province had announced to shut the markets.

A complete shutdown was observed in all major markets. These include auto market Badami Bagh, Hall Road, Sarafa Bazaar, Anarkali bazaar, Urdu Bazaar, McLeod Road Market, Bradenth Road, Medicine markets, Hafeez Centre, Bilal Ganj market, Shah Alam Market, Goods Transport Agencies, Ganpat Road paper market, Ichhra Bazaar, Bandhan Road markets, Azam Cloth market, Chungi Amar Sadhu markets, Circular Road, Akbari Mandi and many others.

Lahore’s wholesale markets, including Shahalam Market, Circular Road markets, Brandreth Road markets, Macleod Road markets, Montgomery Road markets, Hall Road, Biden Road, Azam Market, Moti Bazaar, Dabbi Bazaar and Akbari Mandi remained closed.

Similarly, major retail markets of Anarkali, Urdu Bazaar, The Mall, Ichhra Bazaar, Yateem Khana Bazaar, Township Main Bazaar, Gulberg Main Market and Hafiz Centre remained shut due to fear.

All Pakistan Anjuman-e-Tajiran President Khalid Pervaiz said that all factions of the traders in Lahore had unanimously decided to close their shops to avoid any untoward incident. He demanded the government take strict measures to restore law and order.

According to vegetable market dealers, the supply of vegetables from up country remained normal but customer turnout at Mandi remained very low due to wide protests. Traders said the markets, especially old city area which is the wholesale trade hubs, remained closed for the last two days. They said city trade and business centres have suffered billions of rupees loss following the closure of wholesale and commercial centres.

Industrial associations representatives said that half of the industrial units suffered production losses and shipment delays during last two days as truckers were unwilling to undertake any delivery assignments. They said they had to meet Christmas orders which should reach buyers abroad on time but unfortunately, during last two days, export containers could not be moved as transports were unavailable.

Top cops meet

Punjab Police Inspector General Amjad Javed Saleemi presided over an important meeting at the central police office to review the prevailing law and order situation in the province.

According to a police spokeswoman, all senior officers of the central police office attended the meeting while field officers participated in the parley through audio-link.   “The meeting reviewed in detail division and district wise, the law and order situation besides, the available resources including force and logistics. IGP assured the officers that all their shortages will be met as per their demands.”

Also, the meeting decided that “every person has the right for peaceful protests in favor of his demand but nobody will be allowed to take the law into hands.” “It was decided that the violators will be dealt strictly.”  Amjad Javed Saleemi directed the officers to stay on alert about the law and order situation and also stay in touch with the police force, public representatives, religious scholars, and notables of the areas so that the maintenance of the law and order could be ensured with their cooperation. He also directed the field officers that all officers and officials who received injuries during the clashes will immediately be provided the departmental financial assistance along with medical aid