LAHORE: The city was cut off from the rest of the country on Saturday morning as the protesters of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) blocked its entry and exit points, held daylong rallies and forcibly closed major markets.
The protesters attacked a police station and scared people who had to postpone routine activities and engagements. Small groups of protesters appeared from time to time to block roads making things difficult for motorists.
By afternoon, the city administration requisitioned the Rangers but the situation remained tense and the city was cut off from the rest of the country. Many smaller sit-ins were being staged at the time of filing this report and the city was in the grip of fear.
The protests, which started around 8:30am, were organised enough to make their national presence felt instantly. The protesters first blocked GT Road at Imamia Colony, where train track interjects the road – blocking both vehicular and train traffic. Another rally on the other side of city prevented traffic at the motorway. Soon, metro track was invaded and the service suspended.
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Police had arrested around 150 activists of the party (as per its claim) to take steam out of the rallies but failed and the protests spread throughout the city. On their part, the police claimed 15 arrests.
Immediately after the start of the Islamabad operation, the Tehreek announced a sit-in in front of the Punjab Assembly. But the police arrested most protesters who arrived at the venue. The situation, however, changed when some lawyers joined the protesters and the government feared that it may end up stoking lawyers’ protest. It stopped arrests and went into talks with the lawyers.
As arrests at the main venue stopped, many smaller rallies cropped up in the city. By afternoon, rallies from over two dozen spots were reported spreading fear to the entire city and forcing people to stay indoors as the protesters were wielding sticks and burning tyres.
The situation remained particularly tense in Shahdara area where the angry mob of around 50 hardcore activists of the TLP set the police station and some official vehicles on fire. The police retaliated, fired shells and took back control of the police station after fierce clashes. The police later sought backup support of the force, increasing the strength in the area to prevent such attacks.
In the related incident in the same area, the charged protesters injured PML-N leader Mian Javed Latif when he came to the road to hold negotiations with the agitators.
Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who was scheduled to inaugurate an underpass on Canal Road and visit a kidney centre on Bedian Road, cancelled the events.
Numerically speaking, the major rally was taken out at Data Darbar. The protesters from The Mall, where they failed to stage a sit-in in the first place, marched up to the shrine, returned to the venue with bigger attendance and held the major sit-in in front of the Punjab Assembly.
Protesters from a little known Tehreek-i-Sirate Mustaqeem also joined the agitation. Two factors that added to the sense of fear in the city were television channels’ blockage by the regulator and police taking preemptive measures to protect people from violence and stopping traffic on the roads.
Life in the provincial capital came to a standstill and the traffic police remained confused ending up blocking roads. Patients and the families which were travelling to attend functions or returning homes bore the brunt of the situation.
Witnesses said the protesters at many places denied smooth passage to the patients and ambulances got stuck.
Published in Dawn, November 26th, 2017