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ISLAMABAD: Classes at the Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU) were suspended and hostels vacated after at least 10 students were injured in clashes between rival factions at the varsity’s campus on Saturday.

The clashes paralysed campus life and a heavy police contingent was forced to use teargas to quell the violence which broke out after an altercation between members of the university’s Sindhi and Baloch student councils.

According to eyewitnesses, the violence began just after noon, during a general body meeting of the Sindh council.

The two sides, which had been traditional allies in the past, clashed once before a couple of months ago. At the time, the matter was settled.

Scores injured; police use teargas, batons to disperse rival factions

But on Saturday, QAU Security Incharge Dr Sohail Nadeem told Dawn, the same dispute was reignited and the situation soon spiraled out of control.

Students said the dispute originated from a trip to the northern areas, when two students hailing from the two different groups got into a scuffle.

An eyewitness said that on Saturday, the Sindh council was holding a general body meeting, which they said was also attended by a number of “outsiders”.

“During the meeting, the [incident] was discussed again and participants began to criticise the Baloch council. Things got out of hand when students from the Baloch side gathered nearby and pelted the congregation with stones,” he said.

“Sindh council students retaliated in the same manner, and within minutes gunfire was heard. This scared the students, a number of whom rushed to the roof of the hostel and tried to jump down to get to safety. Some suffered broken legs,” he said.

According to Dr Nadeem, students from the two councils threw stones on each other and a firearm was also discharged during the brawl. He claimed that around 10 students were injured in the clash.

Police said that the students faced off near hostels 8 and 9 and brawled using baton, stones, belts, iron rods and whatever they could lay their hands on. Weapons were also discharged during the fight, they said.

When law enforcers reached the scene, they were able to call a brief truce. However, it didn’t take long for the violence to flare up again and the dispersing students began to gather again and more fights broke out.

The police contingent at the scene then asked for reinforcements and an armoured personnel carrier, anti-riot unit and police commandos were deployed.

The fighting, meanwhile, continued and the fresh police presence had to deploy teargas and resorted to batoncharging the rival factions. Police then vacated the hostels and some students were also rounded up and taken to the police station, they added.

The melee, which began just after noon, “took hours to disperse”, a police officer told Dawn. He said the situation was brought under control around 6pm.

A police officer told Dawn that the university was cordoned off and vacated. A search operation was then launched to search for weapons.

Talking to Dawn, Dr Nadeem said that there could be more weapons in the hostels, therefore an operation had been initiated to clear the campus of weapons.

By around 9pm, all the hostels were under police control and a search was ongoing; however, there was no information about what items, if any, had been recovered.

Soon after the incident, the university issued a notification informing students that classes would remain suspended until further orders.

Another notification, available with Dawn, orders the closing of all boys’ hostels. “It is notified for the information of all boarder students that keeping in view the existing law and order situation in the university, all the boys hostels of the university are being closed with immediate effect until further orders. Resident students are, therefore, directed to vacate the hostel immediately,” read the notice issued on Saturday.

The QAU vice chancellor also sent out an SMS saying that “the classes at QAU have been suspended until further notice. However, the university will remain open for staff and faculty.”

“Moreover, classes will remain suspended since the congregation of students can spark another clash. We are also looking at whether outsiders were involved or responsible for the violence,” Dr Nadeem said.

Police said that about 50 students were injured in clashes and were shifted to local hospitals for medical assistance.

They said Secretariat police had orders to register a case against both groups, adding that the case would be registered on separate charges, including brawling.

Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2017