All roads in Lahore were opened for traffic on Saturday evening, according to the city's deputy commissioner (DC), as the protest march by the banned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) moved outside the city's limits on its way to Islamabad
Lahore DC Umer Sher Chattha said all roads in the city were open for traffic and the Metro bus service had partially resumed from Gajju Matta to Mao college.
In a statement issued by his office, the DC said he had toured various places in the city to review the current situation.
"Instructions have been issued to immediately remove obstacles from these areas and ensure the restoration of facilities like transport, Speedo bus, Metro, Orange line and ambulance," he tweeted.
According to a spokesperson for Punjab police, the marchers had reached Muridke within the limits of Gujranwal district around 7pm in the evening.
Hours earlier, a spokesperson for Lahore police, Rana Arif, said the protesters had reached the Kala Shah Kaku Interchange and were planning to use the Grand Trunk Road to reach Islamabad.
In view of the development, the National Highways and Motorway Police (NHMP) said it was likely the district police would block the entry and exit points of the interchange. "We advise avoiding travel in the vicinity," it said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, who was in Dubai to watch Pakistan compete in the T20 cricket World Cup, returned home on Saturday on Prime Minister Imran Khan's directive to monitor the situation, AFP reported.
On Friday, three policemen were martyred and several others injured in a clash with TLP workers. Two TLP workers who had sustained injuries during the clashes also passed away at Lahore's Mayo Hospital, the hospital's mortuary confirmed.
Earlier on Saturday, the Punjab Safe Cities Authority (PSCA) had issued a list of roads that were closed for traffic amid the tense situation in Lahore.
According to the PSCA, the closed routes included Dubai Chowk to Scheme Mor, Kharak to Scheme Mor, Liaquat Chowk to Scheme Mor, Gulshan Ravi to Yateem Khana, Samanabad to Yateem Khana, Bandar Road Shell Pump to Yateem Khana, Babau Sabu to Motorway, Shahdara Chowk, Sagian Bridge, Old Ravi Bridge, Moon Market to Scheme Mor, Bijli Ghar to Scheme Mor, district courts to Sagian, Data Darbar to Pir Makki and Lahore Ring Road.
However, all routes are now functional for traffic, the Lahore DC confirmed.
The Islamabad Traffic Police (ITP) also issued an alert, informing residents that Express Chowk was closed for traffic, adding that Margallah Road, Ayub Chowk, Nadra Chowk and Dhokri Chowk could be used alternatively.
"Diversion placed at 9th Avenue signal for both sides of traffic from IJP Rd. to Faizabad and from IJP Rd. to Stadium Rd. Alternatively, 9th Avenue can be used to enter Islamabad and Peshawar Rd can be used to for Rawalpindi," it shared in a tweet.
In addition, Murree Road was closed for traffic from both, the police said, adding that traffic was being diverted to the Islamabad Highway for commuters going from Islamabad towards Murree Road.
"Diversion placed at Murree Rd. before Faizabad for traffic from Rawal Dam Chowk to Faizabad. Alternatively, Park Rd., Tramri Chowk and Lehtrar Rd can be used to reach Islamabad Hwy. Srinagar Hwy, 9th Av. and IJP Rd. can be used to reach Rawalpindi," the ITP said.
It further said the metro bus service was suspended in Rawalpindi but was operational from the stop on IJP Road to the Pakistan Secretariat.
The group's latest round of sit-ins began on Tuesday to put pressure on the Punjab government for the release of its chief Hafiz Saad Hussain Rizvi, a son of its late founder Khadim Rizvi.
Rizvi is detained by the Punjab government since April 12 for "maintenance of public order (MPO)". He was initially detained for three months and then again under the Anti-Terrorist Act on July 10. A federal review board is scheduled to take up the government’s reference against him today.
However, TLP leader Pir Ajmal Qadri on Thursday appeared to delink the march from the release of its incarcerated leader, and said the purpose of the move was "respect for the Holy Prophet (PBUH)".
3 policemen martyred in clashes with TLP workers
A day earlier, three policemen were martyred and several others injured in clashes with TLP workers.
Chauburji, Lower Mall and surrounding areas turned into battlefields with videos of the clashes showing police firing teargas shells to disperse the protesters who in return pelted the law enforcers with stones. Many TLP workers carrying clubs appeared to be fighting back when the riot police tried to disperse them.
In a statement, Lahore DIG (Operation) Spokesperson Mazhar Hussain identified two of the slain officials as Ayub and Khalid. The identity of the third official has not yet been ascertained, but a statement from the provincial chief minister stated that three policemen were martyred.
Hussain said that several others were also injured and taken to the hospital in critical condition. "Protesters also hurled petrol bombs on officials," he said, adding that officials tried to prevent them from vandalising and damaging public property.
"The angry mob also used sticks and pelted stones," he said, adding that officials were showing restraint despite the violence.
A TLP media coordinator, Saddam Bukhari, said the police attacked the peaceful rally that was on its way to Islamabad.
In a separate statement, a spokesperson for the banned group said that workers had endured the "worst shelling in history" and were "attacked from all sides" near the Mao College Pul. By late Friday night, the protesters had managed to reach Azadi Chowk, where they staged a sit-in for the night. The group's leaders said they planned to leave for Islamabad at dawn.
Life in the areas where the clashes took place came to a standstill, as the Punjab government suspended mobile phone services and power supply to the areas following the tense situation.
On Friday, the Central Police Office issued instructions to the four regional police officers and district police officers to beef up security on GT Road leading to Islamabad to stop the TLP procession at any cost. Rawalpindi police blocked almost the entire city by placing containers on roads.
Following the clashes, the TLP leadership refused to talk to a government committee till the release of their incarcerated leader Saad Rizvi, whom the group said would lead any negotiations. They alleged that on the one hand the authorities were engaging them in talks, and on the other, "thousands of their workers" had been shot at and many were wounded.
The Punjab government had earlier on Friday constituted a committee comprising provincial Law Minister Raja Basharat and Minister for Prosecution Chaudhry Zaheeruddin for holding talks with the TLP ahead of its march on Islamabad.
The capital administration and police have been provided 500 personnel of Rangers while a contingent of 1,000 Frontier Constabulary soldiers were due to join them on Saturday to stop a march on the capital by the TLP.
With expected support from other religious groups, the local chapter of the banned organisation is prepared to host a sit-in which they claimed would reach Faizabad by Monday.
Meanwhile, directives were issued to the Islamabad administration and police to arrest all TLP leaders, activists and workers wherever they were seen, sources told Dawn. Besides, instructions were issued to use force against the banned outfit if it tried to enter Islamabad.
So far, police have arrested 50 leaders, activists and workers in Islamabad and detained them in different police installations.
The administrations of seminaries were also approached and warned to refrain from joining the TLP protest, the sources said, adding that some of them gave an assurance and announced their disassociation from the TLP.
Maulana Aziz announces support
Lal Masjid has already announced its support to the TLP and it is likely that students and followers of Maulana Abdul Aziz will hold their own protest in Aabpara or around Lal Masjid.
Talking to Dawn, Maulana Aziz said on Friday that he supported the cause of the TLP and would encourage his supporters to take part in the sit-in at Faizabad.