LAHORE: At least two people were killed and several others, including policemen, injured when violence erupted in major cities of the country on Monday afternoon following the arrest of Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) chief Allama Saad Hussain Rizvi, a day after he demanded that the federal government expel the ambassador of France over blasphemous caricatures.
The TLP was protesting blasphemous caricatures published in France and demanding that French ambassador be sent home and import of goods from that country banned. The government reached an agreement with the TLP on Nov 16 to involve the parliament to decide the matter in three months. As the Feb 16 deadline neared, the government expressed its inability to implement the agreement and sought more time. The TLP agreed to delay its protest by two-and-a-half months to April 20.
On Sunday, Mr Rizvi, in a video message, asked the TLP workers to be ready to launch the long march if government failed to meet the deadline. It prompted the government to arrest the TLP chief.
The police swooped on Mr Rizvi at around 2pm on Wahdat Road, where he had gone to attend a funeral. Outraged, the TLP issued a call for countrywide protests. Within the next few hours, protesters took to the streets and blocked the Grand Trunk Road on a number of points. All main cities like Lahore, Gujranwala, Islamabad and Peshawar were cut off from each other and the rest of the country. The activists held sit-ins at various points in Hyderabad and Sukkur. They blocked highways, motorways and train tracks, disrupting life in a better part of the country and causing violence as protesters clashed with police at many places.
The National Highway and motorways police said that more than 50 points on the highways were blocked by the TLP activists. Reports suggested that railways lines were also blocked at Kasur and Narowal in central Punjab. The list kept expanding till late in the night.
By late evening, reports of violence started to pour in. The TLP claimed that police killed one of its workers in Faisalabad and shared pictures on social media. There was, however, no independent confirmation of the report.
Police in Lahore reported that two constables and one station house officer were injured. “The TLP is blocking 26 exit and entry points of the city,” said an official, adding that the TLP activists were attacking police parties that were trying to disperse the protesters. They were carrying batons and attacking not only police but also private property.
By 10pm, the blockage assumed another dimension when both the Punjab minister and secretary of specialised healthcare started warning that hospitals were running out of oxygen.
“The supply is made every eight hours and all critical Covid-19 patients need fresh supplies, which cannot be made because all major arteries of the city are blocked. The crisis situation could quickly assume disaster proportion if supplies are not immediately restored,” Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid told television channels.
In Karachi, one perceived worker of the TLP was reportedly shot dead and three policemen were injured.
According to Chhipa charity organisation, a man, identified as Talha Alam, was shot dead in Orangi Town-5. Its spokesperson said the man died during firing at a protest sit-in.
The TLP in its WhatsApp group shared the picture of the victim and claimed that he was martyred during the protest.
Police said in a statement that the TLP supporters protesting in Orangi Town-5 against the arrest of party workers pelted police officials with stones, injuring one constable. The protesters also pelted policemen with stones near main Tower, injuring two constables — Mumtaz Ali, 48, and Afzal Sharif, 40.
Karachi police chief Additional IG Ghulam Nabi Memon said protesters had blocked about 10 roads in the city. “There are around 200 to 600 persons at each location. Police and Rangers are trying to disperse the protesters which they have succeeded at four locations,” he added.
Meanwhile, Police launched a crackdown on the TLP workers in Rawalpindi division and rounded up more than 100 people from different areas on Monday night. Twenty-five TLP workers were picked up in Islamabad and shifted to Secretariat and Koral police stations. In Rawalpindi, police arrested 35 TLP workers who had blocked Liaquat Bagh and Faizabad roads.
As many as 43 people were arrested in Chakwal and six in Gujar Khan.
In the federal capital, the TLP workers closed Athal Chowk for traffic. The protesters also blocked Bhara Kahu’s main road leading to Murree and Azad Kashmir.
Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2021