ISLAMABAD: Protesters clashed with police and major cities were paralysed as thousands of people demonstrated across Pakistan on Monday over severe gas shortages and price hikes.
Public transport was halted in the capital Islamabad, where police used tear gas and sticks on a crowd of more than 1,000 people, an AFP photographer saw.
Protesters carrying sticks burned tyres and chanted, “Down with government, stop suffocating the poor,” at the spot where a rally was held last month in which demonstrators set fire to armoured police vehicles.
More than a dozen small protests were also held across the northwest province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while most natural gas stations were closed in central Punjab province under a partial strike.
The government has hiked the national gas price by 14 per cent amid yawning energy shortfalls that have sparked recent protests across Pakistan, where opposition parties are setting in motion campaigns to force elections in 2012.
Queues snaked from petrol stations as cars stocked up on dwindling gas stocks.
“The gap between demand and supply has been increasing because of severe cold and the company is unable to bridge it,” a senior official at the Sui Northern Gas Company told AFP.
The company official said that a proposal was also under consideration to terminate the gas supply for thousands of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) stations supplying public and private vehicles for one month.
In the central city of Multan, up to 1,500 people, mostly transporters and CNG dealers, held a demonstration and blocked roads in protest.
Pakistan, which has a population of 174 million, has seen industry slump in the face of recession and years of al Qaeda and Taliban-linked bombings.