LAHORE - Hundreds of protesting lawyers stormed into the Punjab Institute of Cardiology, assaulted staff and ransacked the building on Wednesday. Six critical patients reportedly expired on hospital beds as doctors and staff ran to safety during the assault.

Angry lawyers also assaulted provincial information minister Fayyazul Hassan Chohan while protesting doctors roughed up provincial health minister Dr Yasmin Rashid as they reached the hospital to cool down the two sides. The protesting doctors also demanded the health minister to step down.

Police fired tear-gas shells to disperse the lawyers who pelted the cops with stones. The lawyers went on the rampage, set a police van on fire, and also attacked media crews to stop coverage of their vandalism.

At least three patients died on hospital beds during the clashes, and many others suffered as the medical staff stopped performing their duties after the assault by the lawyers.

Prime Minister Imran Khan and Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar took strong notice of the violence at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC), the biggest heart hospital in the province. The PM ordered the Punjab police chief and the chief secretary to send report of the incident at the earliest.

Wednesday’s attack on the cardiac hospital comes a few weeks after doctors and paramedical staff of the hospital thrashed some lawyers after an argument.

According to officials, a lawyer visited the hospital last month for the check up of a relative and exchanged harsh words with a doctor. Later, the lawyer was joined by his colleagues while doctors and paramedics also came to support their colleagues.

The lawyers later claimed that three of their colleagues were brutally tortured and injured by the doctors and paramedics. A case was registered against 12 unidentified persons including doctors on the complaint of lawyers with Shadman police station.

The Lahore Bar Association on Monday went on strike over the incident while lawyers also staged a protest demonstration outside the Central Police Office in Lahore, demanding registration of a criminal case against the responsible doctors and paramedics.

On Wednesday, no less than 500 lawyers gathered outside the PIC early in the morning and started chanting slogans against the doctors and the hospital staff. They forced their entry into the hospital building after breaking open the main gate and ransacked several wards and departments of the hospital within no time.

The attackers beat up doctors, paramedics and relatives of the patients. TV footage showed some of the lawyers were equipped with pistols and they fired warning shots when police tried to overpower them.

An eyewitness said the police moved away as the club-wielding protesters entered the hospital and ransacked different departments one by one. Several people including citizens, lawyers, and policemen were injured during the violence.

Relatives started shifting their patients to other hospitals after doctors and paramedical staff suspended the work in the wards.

According to provincial health minister Dr Yasmin Rashid, at least three critical patients died on hospital beds during the clashes. However, the Young Doctors’ Association claimed that at least six patients expired due to non-availability of healthcare facilities following the assault.

Grand Health Alliance Chairman Dr Salman Haseeb said several patients were in critical condition when they were left unattended as lawyers entered emergency wards and assaulted the staff.

The Young Consultants Association announced a nationwide strike after the violence at the PIC. YCA President Dr Hammad Butt said that no consultant would join duty on Thursday across the province.



Police action

Hours later, more police contingents reached the spot and fired tear-gas shells to disperse the lawyers. The provincial government also called in Punjab Rangers to maintain peace in the provincial metropolis. An official said that the Rangers personnel were deployed at all important places in the city to keep the situation under control.

During the crackdown, police faced strong resistance but arrested dozens of lawyers. The police bundled the lawyers into prison vans after giving them a good thrashing. Several women were also among the arrested lawyers who were shifted to the lockups of different police stations in Lahore.

Later in the day, the police registered a criminal case against the lawyers and started raids to arrest the suspects who disappeared during and after the clashes.

Following the violence, the chief minister chaired a meeting to discuss law and order situation. He was informed that at least 34 lawyers were identified and arrested by police during the clash.

A Punjab government official told The Nation that a high-level inquiry was underway to fully investigate the incident and bring the culprits to justice. “This is totally unacceptable. Those who created mayhem will not skip punishment,” the official said.

Earlier, Punjab Information Minister Fayyaz-ul-Hassan Chohan said that the lawyers who attacked the hospital would be dealt with iron hands. Speaking to reporters after the incident, he said that a case would be lodged and strict legal action would be taken against those who challenged the writ of the state.

Chohan said the government had asked the police to observe restraint and avoid shelling and baton-charging the protesters but the lawyers aggravated the relatively peaceful situation and went on the rampage.

Traffic mess

The clashes triggered worst traffic mess in many parts of the metropolis as police sealed off the area around the PIC and diverted the traffic towards alternative routes.

Traffic was also disrupted by protest demonstrations staged at Secretariat Chowk and GPO Chowk by the lawyers to express ‘solidarity’ with their colleagues

Similarly, doctors and paramedical staff blocked the main Ferozpur Road in front of the Lahore General Hospital to protest against the brutal attack on their colleagues at PIC.

The roadblocks caused traffic jumbles on Mall Road, Canal Road, Ferozpur Road, Lower Mall, and Multan Road. A traffic police spokesman said additional traffic officers were deployed on all major roads to ensure smooth flow of vehicular traffic.