A prison van is in flames after protesters set fire to it in Karachi, while police personnel smash the windscreen of a car with batons and go after the occupants at Niazi interchange in Lahore on Wednesday.—Shakil Adil and Murtaza Ali / White Star
A prison van is in flames after protesters set fire to it in Karachi, while police personnel smash the windscreen of a car with batons and go after the occupants at Niazi interchange in Lahore on Wednesday.—Shakil Adil and Murtaza Ali / White Star

• Prison van torched, officials, protesters wounded
• Hundreds held before being released on court order
• Protesters tear-gassed as police attempt to clear roads

KARACHI/LAHORE: Pitched battles were fought on Wednesday in the provincial capitals of Sindh and Punjab where PTI protesters clashed with police at various points amid reports of an arson attack on a prison van and firing of tear gas by police near Numaish Chowrangi and Liberty Chowk after several police officials were injured in violence.

While PTI chairman Imran Khan had asked party activists in Karachi and other parts of Sindh to stage protests in their respective cities, most of those in Punjab who had been directed to march on the federal capital also failed to reach Islamabad amid a crackdown by the police in which hundreds were picked up and 13 SMGs, six rifles (223-bore) and three pistols allegedly being transported to Islamabad were seized from the house of Zubair Niazi, PTI’s secretary general in Lahore.

Clashes between PTI activists and police at Lahore’s Liberty Chowk continued into the night as the law enforcers resorted to tear gas shelling in an attempt to clear roads for traffic, which was blocked by the demonstrators on a fresh directive from the party chief to lodge protests in their respective areas, after the protesters threw stones on the police personnel while refusing to clear the roads.

The federal government had a day ago announced use of all means to stop what it claimed PTI’s attempt to create anarchy-like situation in the country, while Mr Khan had vowed to put up his power show in Islamabad at all cost to demand an early election.

Earlier when PTI’s Lahore chapter gathered its workers at Bhatti Chowk to remove barriers placed in the area to block their route to Islamabad, the police resorted to tear gas shelling to disperse them and arrested over 10 PTI workers. Around 212 other party activists were picked up from other city areas.

Also, clashes between police and protesters were reported from Islampura, Karim Park, Mohni Road, Badami Bagh and near Aiwan-i-Adal.

Police also arrested Yasmin Rashid and Andaleeb Abbas from Ravi Road, but released them subsequently.

Later in the afternoon the Lahore High Court ordered release of all the arrested workers after receiving an undertaking from them that they would not indulge themselves in any illegal activity.

DIG (Operations) Sohail Chaudhry told Dawn that the protesters were booked and arrested for violation of Maintenance of Public Order after securing detention orders. He said the roads were not cleared because they did not receive any such order from the government or any court.

As PTI workers along with their leaders Hammad Azhar, Shafqat Mehmood, Yasmin Rashid and Andaleeb Abbas reached Batti Chowk at different times, except ex-ministers Azhar and Ms Rashid, none of the leaders managed to cross the obstacles. However, amid the shelling, Mr Azhar was injured and provided with basic medical treatment at a rural health clinic. In a video message on his Twitter account, he later alleged the police resorted to direct attacks.

Some containers from Batti Chowk, Ravi Bridge and later from Shahdara were removed by the protesters, allowing Mr Azhar to take Grand Trunk Road.

Also, the police tried to stop ex-minister Rashid’s vehicle at Batti Chowk. Ms Rashid told Dawn that the windshield was broken by the police and she faced difficulty in leaving the area, but she was on the way to Islamabad. “This government has lost its senses. I am an 80-year-old woman. Why are they stopping a peaceful democratic protest?” she remarked.

In Karachi, police fire tear gas shells to disperse the crowd at Numaish Chowrangi when a prison van was torched by an unruly mob and at least three police officers, including an SP, were injured amid violent protest, according to witnesses, police, rescue services and hospital officials.

The PTI claimed its two workers were shot at and wounded in ‘direct’ firing by the policemen.

A senior police officer who wished not to be named said that after imposition of ban on public gatherings by the government on Tuesday, the police’s task was to prevent crowds for which they detained a total of 170 PTI workers and leaders. The officer said when around 600-700 PTI workers gathered at Numaish, the police tried to avoid use of force, but some protesters attacked police with stones, causing injuries to Gulshan SP Dr Abdul Khaliq Pirzada, the Brigade SHO and another police official.

The protesters also allegedly set fire to the prison van after which the police resorted to tear gas shelling. The officer said 29 protesters were also detained from the Numaish area, but denied that police opened fire on the crowd.

Five media persons covering the protest were injured, according to media organisations.

Edhi Foundation spokesperson said two protesters Yusuf Tahir, 18, and Azhar Ahmed, 25, suffered gunshot wounds during the violence at Numaish. Additional police surgeon at Jinnah Post-Graduate Medical Centre Dr Summaiya Syed said one of them suffered a bullet wound in his abdomen and his condition was relatively serious. She said one police official, Masood Ali, 28, also suffered injuries caused by sticks and stones.

Earlier on Wednesday morning, police raided different city areas and detained PTI workers and leaders, including MNA Saifullah Mehsud, his coordinator Zakirullah Mehsud, coordinator of Faisal Vawda, Mohammad Saleem, according to police.

Ex-governor Imran Ismail claimed police ‘directly’ shot at and wounded party workers. He alleged that ‘criminal elements’ in police uniform attacked their protest. He said their activists were protesting ‘peacefully’ when the police treating Sindh as ‘Palestine and Kashmir’ attacked them. Ex-minister Ali Zaidi alleged that the police resorted to firing on ‘children, youths and elders’ and tortured them.

KUJ secretary, Fahim Siddiqi said that AFP photographer Asif Hasan who suffered serious wounds caused by stones on his head was hospitalized. He said a cameraman of Geo, Nasir Ali, suffered injuries caused by stones. The protesters allegedly snatched a camera from Samaa TV’s female reporter and damaged it.

Media organisations claimed that Samaa TV reporter Zam Zam Saeed, KTN reporter Imtiaz Mastoi and KTN cameraman Rasheed Chandio were allegedly beaten up by the mob.

Violence erupted in Umerkot after PTI activists clashed with police, causing injuries to 10 persons, including SHO Ghulam Nabi, who was shifted to hospital where his condition was described as serious. Police arrested around 100 protesters. PTI MNA Lal Malhi told Dawn they were peaceful, but police used baton charge and fired tear gas at them.

Six protesters were arrested in Dadu, 40 in Sukkur, a couple of PTI workers in Hyderabad, nearly a dozen in Mirpurkhas and one in Nawabshah.

Allah Bux Arisar from Umerkot, Mohammad Hussain Khan from Hyderabad, Qamaruddin from Mirpurkhas, Qurban Ali Khushik from Dadu and Waseem Shamsi from Sukkur also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2022

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