• Three killed, hundreds injured in clash
• Protesters take over two Orange Line train stations
• Govt-TLP talks to stop long march fail
LAHORE: Three people were killed and hundreds of others, including 15 policemen, injured in a clash between workers of the banned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and police at Yateem Khana Chowk here on Sunday.
Police said the TLP workers took five policemen, among them a deputy superintendent of the police, hostage after an attack on a police station.
Dawn learnt that the government and the banned TLP held a dialogue late into night aimed at convincing the outfit to cancel its planned long march on Islamabad. However, the talks failed and the TLP announced that it would start the long march on Tuesday (tomorrow) as scheduled.
According to a statement issued by the Punjab police, TLP activists attacked the Nawan Kot Police Station which led to the clash.
The statement reads: “Today (on Sunday) in the early morning, miscreants attacked Nawan Kot Police Station where Rangers and police officers were trapped and DSP Nawan Kot [was] kidnapped and taken to the markaz (TLP headquarters).
“At least one oil tanker with 50,000 litres of petrol has been taken by the miscreants to their markaz.”
According to the statement, the miscreants attacked the Rangers and police with petrol bombs. “Police and Rangers pushed them back and took back the possession of the police station,” it said, adding police did not plan or conduct any operation in the mosque or the seminary housing the TLP headquarters.
“The action, if any, was in self-defence and to protect public property,” the statement said.
Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) spokesperson Rana Arif said 15 policemen injured during the clash were being treated at different hospitals. He said security personnel were subjected to torture by the TLP workers who also kidnapped Nawan Kot DSP Umar Farooq Baloch and four other policemen.
He said the DSP and other policemen were present in the Nawan Kot police station when the TLP workers attacked it with petrol bombs.
He said police resorted to aerial firing to disperse the TLP workers but they succeeded in abducting the DSP and four policemen and took them to their headquarters.
At a press conference later in the day, Special Assistant to the Chief Minister on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said the mob armed with batons and petrol bombs attacked the Nawan Kot police station and injured several policemen.
She claimed that the mob had kidnapped 12 policemen, including a DSP.
Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry said no one could blackmail the government through violence. He said the government believed in solving problems through dialogue.
However, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid said no talks with the TLP were under way. He said the operation would be resumed if the situation did not improve.
Throughout the day, authorities maintained a complete ban on the broadcast of any news about the clash, including the attack on the police station, abduction of police officials and death and injuries caused during the clashes. It was only late in the evening that government officials appeared on private TV channels to state that the trouble started when TLP protesters went berserk and attacked a police station during which a DSP and a number of policemen were taken hostage.
In a video message, TLP spokesperson Shafiq Ameeni said police and other security forces had attacked their Lahore headquarters at around 8am. “Several workers were killed while a number of others were injured,” he said.
He said the policemen taken hostage by them had attacked the TLP headquarters and were involved in the killing of its workers.
He said the policemen were rescued from the mob and given first aid. “They are still in our custody and will be released when the situation improves.”
Mr Ameeni said freeing them right now was risky as the mob outside the TLP headquarters might attack them.
He claimed that police had arrested their workers from different hospitals, but he could not give the exact number of the dead and the injured.
The TLP also shared a video of DSP Umar Farooq Baloch in its custody. The video shows him saying an operation was carried out to clear the area outside the police station when he was captured by the enraged crowd.
Appealing for a way forward through dialogue, the DSP said three people were killed and several others suffered bullet wounds.
The TLP protesters also took over two stations of the Lahore Orange Line train service, already suspended these days due to coronavirus-related restrictions.
The stations are Bund Road (Yateem Khana intersection) and Salahuddin stations — both situated on Multan Road — the area where the TLP head office is located.
“Both Orange Line elevated stations have been taken over by the protesters who are sitting on the floor and other spaces of the stations. There are reports of breaking of a couple of CCTV cameras either by them or someone else,” a senior official of the Punjab Mass Transit Authority (PMTA) told Dawn. “We don’t know about other damage so far.”
The PMTA put its security staff on high alert at all 26 stations.
Meanwhile, some TV channels aired a hand-written statement of TLP chief Allama Saad Hussain Rizvi, directing the organisation’s Majlis-i-Shura to cancel the protest call for April 20. He also directed his followers to end the sit-in outside at Yateem Khana Chowk and disperse peacefully.
Protest in Karachi
Supporters of the TLP resumed protest in an area of Karachi on Sunday night, but police used force to disperse them.
A police officer said TLP workers took to the streets and tried to block railway tracks in Machar Colony but police used tear gas to disperse them.
Karachi police chief, Additional IG Ghulam Nabi Memon, said that as part of the countrywide security measures, red alert has been issued for Karachi also.
Khalid Husnain in Lahore and Imtiaz Ali in Karachi also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2021