• Dozens of policemen injured • Sit-in held at Faizabad Interchange over blasphemous caricatures
RAWALPINDI: Liaquat Bagh presented a scene of a battleground as police and stick-wielding activists of Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) clashed throughout the day on Sunday.
Riot police had to resort to teargas shelling against the stone-pelting protesters who had gathered on the call of TLP chief Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi to denounce the publication of blasphemous caricatures in Charlie Hebdo magazine and remarks about Islam and terrorism by French President Emmanuel Macron.
During the clashes, dozens of police personnel, including Waris Khan police station SHO Abdul Aziz, and several TLP activists were injured and shifted to hospitals.
“Heavy teargas shelling also affected residents of the adjoining areas with many complaining of difficulty in breathing,” a resident of a locality near Liaquat Bagh said.
Earlier on Saturday, police were seen making announcements, asking traders on Murree Road and the adjoining markets to keep their businesses closed on Sunday, warning them of legal action if they did not comply with the directives.
The city’s 24 entry points were sealed with shipping containers, including Soan Bridge, Kutchery Chowk, Mareer Chowk, Liaquat Bagh, Shamasabad, Rehmanabad, Double Road, Adiala Road, Chur Chowk and I.J. Principal Road.
As many as 16 entry points to Islamabad were also blocked. There was also no mobile phone service in the entire Rawalpindi division since late Saturday night.
At Faizabad, police officials checked every vehicle, especially public transport, entering Islamabad and questioned the passengers.
City Police Officer Mohammad Ahsan Younas himself supervised action against the TLP protesters. More than 170 activists were rounded up on Friday and Saturday and over 130 on Sunday.
The protesters whose number was officially given at about 3,000 managed to reach Faizabad Interchange where they staged a sit-in. Streetlights on Murree Road and Faizabad remained switched off as the protesters marched on Murree Road.
Islamabad Capital Territory police had also adopted unprecedented security measures to prevent the protesters from entering their area. Over 3,100 law enforcement personnel, including 575 Rangers and 250 Frontier Constabulary personnel, were deployed. Police had brought 14 prison vans, five water cannons and six armoured personnel carriers for the security of key government installations and maintaining law and order.
Addressing the protesters, Saad Rizvi, son of the TLP chief who had reached Liaquat Bagh on Sunday with other clerics, said they would not be deterred by the arrests and shelling and the rally would continue as planned. He demanded the French ambassador be immediately expelled and all diplomatic, trade and economic ties with the country severed.
Many protesters managed to climb on to the metro bus track and started marching towards Islamabad. On the way, they clashed with police and damaged the metro bus stations.
According to a report submitted to Commissioner retired Capt Mohammad Mehmood, CCTV cameras were broken at Committee Chowk and Waris Khan metro bus stations while glass panes of the Sixth Road station and the elevator at Faizabad were damaged.
Meanwhile, journalists covering the protest claimed that the TLP activists harassed them and snatched their mobile phones.
People could also be seen walking to their destinations due to closure of roads and absence of public transport. All major commercial and business areas of Rawalpindi city and cantonment remained closed except those in residential areas. However, the most affected were the people living in areas close to where the clashes took place.
Arif Tanoli, a resident of Committee Chowk, said people suffered a lot because of the blockades, closure of shops and suspension of mobile phone service. He said he could not purchase medicine for his father who was a diabetic because they were not allowed to leave their home.
Sajid Mansoor, another resident of Committee Chowk, said his family and children remained confined to the house while his mother found it hard to breathe due to the heavy shelling in the area.
Mohammad Anwar from Arya Mohallah said he too could not purchase his weekly essentials because of the situation.
Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2020