Islamabad protests: All hell breaks loose

Published August 31, 2014
A contingent of capital police in riot gear assemble near the Constitution Avenue earlier in the day on Saturday. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad
A contingent of capital police in riot gear assemble near the Constitution Avenue earlier in the day on Saturday. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad

ISLAMABAD: “You can’t see anything here at D-Chowk. The tear-gas is overwhelming. I have my shirt tied around my face, as do most of the other people who are still here. This is madness, it’s a jungle out here.”

This was how a Dawn reporter on Constitution Avenue described the melee that took place on Saturday night.

The capital city’s high security area, the Red Zone, resembled a battlefield as marchers from the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek, en route to their new destination – the Prime Minister’s House – clashed with security personnel.

Just after 10pm, when both Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan gave their supporters their marching orders, advancing demonstrators heading towards The Presidency, Cabinet Division and Pakistan Secretariat were met with rubber bullets and tear-gas from the heavy police contingents deployed in the area.

Protesters, mostly men, armed with sticks advanced onward towards the PM’s House, which is located behind the Presidency and the Secretariat. Initially, police and security personnel deployed on Constitution Avenue moved back and allowed them through. However, when charged activists tried to storm official buildings, they were met with force.

According to DawnNews, at least one person was killed – a woman from the PAT camp – and well over a 150 people injured. Then, just before midnight, the protesters began to push back and hit out at the law enforcement personnel with anything they could lay their hands on – batons, sticks and stones, marbles and slingshots.

To counter the debilitating effect of tear gas, several piles of trash were set alight by the protesters. Others had salt and wet towels handy, to keep from succumbing to the crippling gas.

On the streets of the capital, there was an eerie calm. Many chose to remain indoors for fear of getting caught up in the clashes. Ambulance sirens could be heard wailing throughout the night as the injured were ferried from the melee to Polyclinic, Pims and other hospitals across the city.

March towards PM House

After a whole day of anticipation, just after 9:30pm, both Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan gave their supporters orders to march towards PM’s House. Both were clear that their followers should remain peaceful and were at pains to stress that women and children should stay behind.

Imran Khan promised marchers that he would lead them from the front. But as the procession began to move, his container got left behind.

Military and rangers deployed inside the perimeter of the Cabinet Block and parliament building looked on as cranes lifted containers blocking the path towards PM’s House.

Both sides were raising slogans proclaiming unity between the marching parties. Some charged individuals ran towards the Presidency. That is when police began firing tear gas and rubber bullets, stopping most people in their tracks.

Dense clouds of tear gas forced many-a PTI supporter to abandon D-Chowk and their attempt to march towards PM House. At midnight, the area which had hitherto been occupied by demonstrators from PAT and PTI looked more like the rubble of a warzone. Many women were reported to have fainted, and over 80 people were rushed to Polyclinic, which reported around midnight that it was full to capacity. At the time of going to print, Pims reported at least 50 injured were being treated there.

Published in Dawn, August 31, 2014

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