KARACHI/LAHORE - PIA flight operation remained suspended across the country and more than 100 domestic and international flights could not operate due to strike of airlines employees on the second consecutive day.

Umrah pilgrims are among those thousands of international passengers who remain stuck at the airports of the country. An official of PIA told that over 2,000 pilgrims were stuck at Jeddah while their visa period is also about to expire.

“Everything is shut now and flight operations have come to a complete halt,” Pakistan International Airline (PIA) Sspokesperson Danial Gilani said. The carrier could lose around $4 million in revenue per day, he added.

Joint Action Committee (JAC) of PIA warned that they won’t let planes fly until the government withdraws its decision of privatising the national flag carrier. “We will continue our peaceful protests until our demand is met,” JAC chairman Sohail Baloch said.

The strike came despite Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s warning that the demonstration was illegal and those taking part could face up to a year in prison under a law that restricts union activity in state-administered sectors.

The airports plunged deeper into chaos after two PIA protesters were killed the other day while demonstrating against the government.

Inayat Raza and aircraft engineer Saleem Akbar were shot dead on Tuesday by unidentified persons when police and Rangers were trying to stop the protesters from marching towards Jinnah Terminal. Nearly a dozen others were wounded in the clash between protesters and law enforcers.

PIA spokesperson rejected the news about the killing of a third PIA employee, Zubair Ahmed, who according to him was stable at the Agha khan Hospital. He said PIA Chairman Nasir Jaffer offered his resignation after the killings, but it has not been accepted by the prime minister as yet.

Spokesperson Danial Gilani said the airline has arranged four Boeing 747 jumbo planes of Saudi Airlines which would fly on Friday to bring back the stranded pilgrims from Jeddah.

He said that on their way back to Saudi Arabia these planes would carry the same number of pilgrims from Karachi and Islamabad to Jeddah for umrah. The returning and intending pilgrims are being provided hotel accommodation by PIA at Jeddah as well as at various cities in Pakistan.

As its back up plan, he said, PIA is also in final stages of negotiations with Etihad Airways and Turkish Airlines to facilitate passengers going to and coming from Europe, America and Canada. Since Jan 26, the strike has cost the airline about 1 billion rupees ($9.6 million) in losses, he added.

Though it was unclear who was behind Tuesday’s shootings, JAC Chairman Sohail Baloch yesterday alleged in a press conference that federal government adopted shameful tactics and resorted to firing on peaceful protesters.

“No representative of the government has contacted the victim families,” he said, adding that PIA employees were ready to call off their strike if government hold meaningful negotiations with them and accept their demands.

The PIA employees have said they would donate a day’s salary to the families of their killed colleagues.

Baloch said four other employees were missing after the deadly protest while DIG police has declined that they were in police custody. He said that JAC moved an application to Airport Police but police has still not lodged the FIR about the killing of PIA employees. They have approached to the court over the issue, he added.

JAC chairman said they will continue their protest until government withdraws its decision to privatise the airline. The protest will continue on Thursday (today) and during the day employees will stage sit-in at Karachi Airport and take out a rally from airline headquarters, where funeral prayers in absentia of the deceased PIA employees will be offered.

At Lahore airport PIA employees offered Ghaybana Namaz-e-Janaza of their colleagues who lost their lives in Karachi airport protest. Leaders from different political parties PPP, PTI and Jamat-e-Islami including Mian Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo, Latif Khosa, Liaqat Baloch, Ch Sarwar, Mian Mehmood-ur-Rasheed, Sindh MNA Nafeesa Shah and Samin Ghurki also attended the funeral prayer.

Mehmood Bokahir, Secretary General of Airleague of PIA employees, said that on Thursday (today) Khatam-e-Qul will be offered to pay homage to the martyred PIA employees.

As for the investigations of the shooting at protesters, the investigators remain clueless about the identity of the shooters. Both the law enforcement agencies – police and Rangers – have already denied shooting at the protesters.

According to SP Chaudhary Saifullah, police did not find any empty shell of bullets fired at the PIA employees. “We also have no footage of the incident as no CCTV camera was installed there,” he added.

The police however have received an application from JAC for registration of murder case in which they have nominated PML-N Senator Mushahidullah, Information Minister Pervez Rashid, Shujaat Azeem, Irfan Elahi, Mama Maqsood, Brigadier Asif and others, besides the unidentified persons who fired the shots.

SP Saifullah said it was not a simple case and police cannot register FIR against so many people without any credible reason. The said they consulting the legal experts on the matter and soon an FIR will be registered.

Agencies add: In December, Islamabad announced it would complete the partial sale of the carrier by July, following years of crushing losses and mismanagement that have battered the airline’s reputation.

Once a source of pride for Pakistan, the loss-making carrier has been hit by frequent flight cancellations, and many of its aircraft have been cannibalised to keep others flying.

Despite government attempts to allay fears the privatisation could lead to mass layoffs, sporadic protests have continued.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif this week extended legislation to ban the airline’s employees from striking for six months, the government said in a statement.

The law specifies prison terms of up to a year, and an unspecified fine, for those convicted of infringements.

Nawaz Sharif vowed not to back down from the reform plan. “Action will be taken against those who have gone on strike,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “I believe that any concession on this will be a disservice to Pakistan.”