LAHORE: A day after the suicide attacks on two churches in Lahore, the Punjab government called in Rangers on Monday to control the law and order situation after police failed to prevent clashes between two protesting groups which left two people dead and seven injured.
As the death toll from Sunday’s twin suicide attacks in Yohannaabad rose to 16, hundreds of people belonging to the Christian community resumed their protest in the morning. They blocked Ferozepur Road for several hours. Shops in the entire locality remained closed and traffic was thin because of sensitivity of the situation.
The baton-wielding protesters turned violent and damaged a number of vehicles. They surrounded a car being driven by a woman, but she sped away the car running over seven protesters. Police later arrested the woman, who said she got afraid after the protesters started smashing her car with sticks.
The injured were taken to Lahore General Hospital where two of them died of their injuries. Their identities were unknown.
The situation further worsened when announcements were made from some mosques in Yohannaabad that the protesters were harassing a woman car rider. A large number of people gathered in the area and both communities had a face-off. Although police earlier did not stop the protesters from damaging public property, they finally intervened to avert a possible Christian-Muslim clash.
Two die during protests over the church attacks
Realising the gravity of the situation, the provincial government called in Rangers who took over security of Yohannaabad.
“We gathered soon after the announcements from mosques in Nishtar Colony that a woman was manhandled by protesters belonging to Yohannaabad and a couple of mosques were attacked with stones,” said a protester.
There was extraordinary police reinforcement in the troubled area on Monday and police vehicles and buses were seen moving on the Metro Bus track. Police used teargas and water cannon to disperse the protesters.
Deputy Inspector General (operations) Dr Haider Ashraf told Dawn that the woman driver, who turned the situation from bad to worse, had been taken into custody. He said the protesters from both sides pelted each other with tones.
Three companies of Rangers were deployed to control the situation and efforts were being made to negotiate with leaders of both groups to calm it down.
DIG (investigation) Sahibzada Shahzad Sultan told Dawn that a joint team had been constituted to investigate the suicide blasts and the lynching incident. He said police investigation into the suicide attacks was at an early stage.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif took note of the lynching of two men and ordered arrest of the suspects who were identified with the help of TV footages and mobile cameras.
According to some reports, police identified four of the suspects and carried out raids to arrest them.
Rangers were deployed on roads leading to Yohannaabad and the movement of people was restricted.
The deployment of the paramilitary force, along with anti-riot police, and talks held between government officials and religious leaders of the protesting groups in the evening, however, improved the situation.
The Christian protesters also blocked the National Highway near Mohlanwal, Harrapa Bypass and also Motorway III near Faisalabad.
Published in Dawn March 17th , 2015