Pakistani riot policemen try to chase protesters during a demonstration in Islamabad on January 2, 2012 to protest the shortages and hike in the gas prices. - AFP Photo

LAHORE: Life in major cities of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the capital Islamabad remained crippled on Monday as most of the public transport remained off the roads, industrialists took to the street and factory workers protested against gas loadshedding.

To make matters worse, the Lahore police booked around 35 industrialists and traders, including Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Irfan Qaiser Sheikh, when they held a demonstration outside the Governor's House.

The Punjab businessmen warned the government of 'civil disobedience' unless it ended, what they called, 'discrimination' in the supply of gas to industry in the province.

The All Pakistan Textile Mills Association has decided to hold a series of protests against suspension of gas supply to textile mills from Wednesday if the federal government did not end discrimination in gas distribution.

The owners of CNG stations also joined protests when, over and above the already declared loadshedding schedule, they closed their stations, prolonging woes of the people and forcing them off roads.

The most affected part of the province was GT Road, which was blocked by the protesters at five points, keeping commuters struck for several hours between Lahore and Rawalpindi.

In Lahore, mini-bus and wagon owners, which take bulk of city commuters, blocked Lahore-Multan Road, set tyres on fire and kept the road closed for better part of the day. The Lahore roads had thin traffic as scarcity of gas and violent protests kept people at home.

In Faisalabad, the SNGPL teams kept removing gas meters of different industrial units as it suspended supplies to over 95 per cent of industry in the province. They removed meters of units falling within cities.

In Lahore, although a case was registered under Section 188 (Disobedience to order duty promulgated by public servant) of the Pakistan Penal Code against industrialists and traders, no arrests were made.

A police official told Dawn that a case had been registered against violators of the Lahore High Court's order which restricts rallies on The Mall under Section 144.

Meanwhile, the petroleum secretary contradicted a statement made earlier by the petroleum minister regarding closure of CNG stations during January, but failed to persuade the CNG Association to call off its strike.

During a meeting with All Pakistan CNG Association (APCNGA) at Islamabad, Petroleum Secretary Ejaz Chaudhri said: “There is no proposal for closure of CNG stations during January. However, CNG stations will remain closed as per the mutually agreed gas load management programme.”

The ministry also offered some relaxations in the ban for CNG filling of public transport and commercial vehicles.

However, the APCNGA delegation remained adamant over its demand of unconditional lifting of a ban on filling public transport vehicles with CNG. This means the combined strike by CNG stations and public transport will continue on Tuesday.

Violent protests and skirmishes with police were seen at various spots in Rawalpindi and Islamabad. Scores of vehicles were damaged, while a police van belonging to Islamabad police was set on fire at Faizabad, the junction between Rawalpindi and federal capital. During clashes 12 people, majority of them policemen, were injured.

Commuters across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa faced difficulties due to shortage of public transport. Pervez Khan Khattak, president of the All Pakistan CNG Association, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa zone, told Dawn that over 600 CNG stations across the province observed strike.

“The strike is for an indefinite period and we will not open our stations until our demands are accepted,” Mr Khattak said.

He said CNG stations in Peshawar, Abbottabad, Mardan, Haripur, Malakand, Kohat, Swabi, and other areas of the province remained closed.

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