LAHORE: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) virtually brought Lahore to a standstill on Monday as they followed through with their plan to shut down the city in a bid to pressure the government into accepting their demands.
PTI chief Imran Khan appeared visibly happy with his party’s performance in implementing `Plan C’ in Lahore following strikes in Faisalabad and Karachi.
Calling out Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in his hometown, Mr Khan demanded that the government constitute a judicial commission to investigate electoral rigging within 48 hours or face a countrywide shutdown. He also warned that PTI’s ‘Plan D’ was ready and would be even harder for the government to swallow.
“PTI is a democratic party and its workers will stay on the roads until justice is done over the massively rigged general elections,” Mr Khan told a large gathering of his supporters in front of the Punjab Assembly.
The day began with PTI workers blocking all the city’s entry and exit points and blocking traffic by burning tyres and installing barbed wire on main thoroughfares.
Protest marred by isolated clashes; journalists, women harassed by activists
The protesters, among them a large number of women and children, danced to the tune of party anthems amid choruses of “Go Nawaz Go”.
A heavy police presence was seen in all areas where sit-ins were held, which increased from the initially-announced 18 spots to a total of 30 points in the city. Though residents were able to move around within their own localities, it was very difficult for Lahoris to travel to any other part of the city.
While no widespread incidents of violence were reported, altercations between protesters and commuters trying to get from one place to the other, were reported in nearly all areas.
One of the major skirmishes took place on Bhaati Chowk, where, according to government officials, PTI workers forcibly tried to shut down shops. They also pelted a metro bus with stones, causing the transport service to suspend its operations for the day.
Khawaja Salman Rafique, the Punjab government’s adviser on health, claimed that at least three patients stuck in traffic on their way to hospital had died on the roads. However, PTI spokesperson Shireen Mazari claimed that only one individual, who was already deceased, had been held up in traffic at Shahdara. PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who said he was aggrieved over deaths, said that “such things happen when large-scale protests are held”.
Monday’s protests also saw ugly attacks against staff from Geo News, the private TV channel that has been in the PTI’s cross hairs for quite some time. Reporters and anchorpersons, including women, were harassed and pelted with stones and empty bottles as they reported on the protest. The attacks prompted widespread condemnation from the journalistic community.
In addition, women workers from the PTI were also manhandled and harassed during the main rally on The Mall and many had to leave before the party chief’s much-awaited speech later in the evening.
Most markets in the city remained shut, including Johar Town, where the party did not have a sit-in planned. Attendance in schools, colleges, universities and offices remained thin as many people could not get past PTI’s road blocks. A Punjab Assembly session was re-scheduled for Tuesday.
Mr Khan arrived at Lahore airport around mid-day and visited four different sit-ins at various points in the city and spoke to party workers there before heading towards the venue of the main gathering on The Mall.
In his speech, Mr Khan chided National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq, who he accused of hiding behind stay orders and legal lacunas. “Ayaz Sadiq is afraid of recounting votes because the outcome will reveal that the speaker of the National Assembly was elected through massive rigging,” he alleged.
The PTI chief claimed the party had successfully staged history’s longest peaceful protest, but now they were being pushed to stay out on the streets to ensure that their “legitimate demands” were met. He also said the party would withdraw its shutdown call for Dec 18 if the prime minister announced the constitution of a judicial commission to probe electoral rigging.
Published in Dawn December 16th , 2014