MULTAN - The stampede tragedy marred PTI’s celebrations as at least seven persons were killed and 40 others injured when a chaotic situation took place at the end of a big public meeting addressed by Imran Khan here at Qasim Bagh Stadium on Friday evening.

Two of the deceased, who got crushed by the mob and died on the spot, were identified as Imran, 25, and Moawia, 23 while five others died in hospital and an apparent reason for their death was stated to be suffocation. The injured were shifted to Nishtar Hospital where the condition of 10 was stated to be critical.

Nishtar Hospital Medical Superintendent Dr Ashiq Malik told journalists that emergency had been declared at the hospital and treatment was being given to the injured. He said 23 injured had sustained minor injuries.

Witnesses said the incident took place when the participants of the public meeting attempted to go out at the end of the event and electricity also went off suddenly. “Many people, in an attempt to leave the stadium, fell down and were crushed by a big mob rushing towards the exit,” said a PTI worker, Imran Ullah.

Bothe the government and PTI leadership held each other responsible for the incident. PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi held Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Multan DCO Zahid Saleem Gondal responsible for the incident, demanding launch of an immediate probe. “I had reports from the police department that something will happen. The government did not cooperate with us, changed the venue, disconnected electricity, failed to make security arrangements and even concealed the ladder to climb up the stage,” he maintained. He questioned why the lights were turned off, just two gates were opened and four others kept shut while the administration knew that hundreds of thousands of people had gathered. “It seems part of a conspiracy. Sheikh Rasheed was attacked just one day back. Then we caught two men at the death anniversary of Rana Jabbar’s brother, who came armed for firing and now this incident took place,” he claimed.

DCO Multan Zahid Saleem Gondal, however, contradicted the allegations of the PTI leadership and said it was an accident and not negligence, adding the organisers of the event failed to make proper arrangements. “All the five gates were open. In fact, PTI’s own arrangements were inadequate,” he added. He made it clear that PTI District President Ijaz Janjua had given in writing to the administration that all the arrangements, including power generators, would be made the party organisation. He told the journalists that 2,500 policemen were deployed to safeguard the public meeting while the venue was also selected by the PTI leadership.

He said PTI had taken responsibility for managing the meeting as the district administration was out of the meeting venue. He added personnel from Rescue 1122 as well as policemen saved many lives. Quoting a Rescue 1122 spokesman, he said nine ambulances and 45 volunteers participated in the rescue operation.

Meanwhile, an enraged crowd of PTI workers encircled Punjab Minister for Prisons Ch Abdul Waheed Arain outside Nishtar Hospital and tried to rough him up, but police rescued him and managed to send him back in an auto rickshaw. The minister had come to the hospital to inquire about the health of the stampede victims.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, expressing deep grief over the incident, has ordered a probe into the tragedy. Jamaat-e-Islami District Amir Asif Khakwani has also expressed deep sorrow and grief over the tragedy.

Our staff reporter adds from lslamabad: Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan held the Multan deputy commissioner responsible for the incident, demanding his suspension and an independent inquiry.

After his arrival by a special plane from Multan to Islamabad on Friday night, Imran Khan, addressed the protesters at D-Chowk, held DCO Zahid Saleem Gondal responsible for the deaths and condemned the incident. He said the public meeting lacked cooperation of police and the district administration.

Imran alleged only two gates were opened for the people leaving the venue and claimed the incident was a result of mismanagement by the Multan administration.

Imran Khan said the administration did not supply electricity for the meeting and the whole show depended on private generators. At the same time, Khan alleged the district administration switched off the lights soon after his speech. The PTI chief announced that on Saturday (today) and Sunday a big crowed would come to D-Chowk to participate in the sit-in.