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KARACHI: Arbab attacked by party activists

April 08, 2008

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KARACHI, April 7: Despite strong police protection provided to him by the caretaker administration, the former chief minister of Sindh, Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim, was on Monday physically attacked by some enraged political activists as he left the Assembly after taking the oath as a newly-elected MPA.

The incident was vociferously condemned although it was not unprecedented: in the past, MPA Yunus Khan suffered worse.

The violent episode occurred despite the fact that security was beefed up after Saturday, when Dr Rahim was unable to take the oath because of political activists’ attempts to manhandle him. Subsequently, the Assembly authorities cancelled all passes except those issued to the press.

Slogan-chanting political activists also harassed television reporters and anchorpersons who, despite displaying cards issued by the Assembly authorities, were obstructed from performing their duties.

The MQM played an important role in Dr Rahim’s oath-taking, due to which the session started late. The first attempted assault occurred as the former chief minister sat on the opposition benches next to the Speaker’s gallery, waiting to be administered the oath by the outgoing Speaker, Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah. An unidentified man, who was later overpowered by some PPP workers and security personnel in plainclothes, hurled a shoe at Dr Rahim as the naat was being recited.

Meanwhile, political activists shouted slogans against the former chief minister and used rude and abusive language, despite warnings issued by the Speaker.

Police and other security official escorted Dr Rahim to the Assembly hall via its back door. He took the oath amid all the chaos and then left the House.

Although a strong security cover had been provided by the caretaker Home adviser and the Assembly authorities to the former chief minister upon his arrival, it appeared to have melted away by the time he left the House after taking the oath. As a result, a handful of PPP MNAs had to intervene in the corridor outside the Members’ Gallery to protect Dr Rahim from the wrath of charged workers who allegedly belonged to the PPP.

As he attempted to leave the Assembly, Dr Rahim was struck by a shoe hurled by a political activist. Meanwhile, some women who were displaying similar intentions were pushed back by MPAs and plainclothes security personnel. Even as Dr Rahim was being driven away, his car was chased by charged activists who then vented their anger by targeting the waiting police vehicles.

It remains unclear how such disruptive element managed to obtain passes to gain entry into the Sindh Assembly premises.

PPP distances itself

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement staged a walkout from the Sindh Assembly in protest over the incident, while the Speaker tendered an apology to Dr Rahim. The newly-elected Speaker, Nisar Khuhro, also termed the incident “uncalled for” and urged everyone present to respect the sanctity of the Assembly and allow the provincial legislature to perform its duty.

Deploring the attack, Dr Rahim claimed that it was part of a well-planned conspiracy to harm his person. “Such acts are contrary to the spirit of democracy and [the maxim of] live and let live,” he maintained. “The ones who indulged in violence such as this are unwilling to tolerate the voice of dissent in the House and in the province.”

Meanwhile, the PPP distanced itself from the incident, which it termed a plot against the party by involving certain PPP (SB) workers.

Condemning the episode in a press statement issued from the Bilawal House media cell, the PPP clarified that the outgoing government still controlled the police and administration and was implementing the orders of the former rulers through the Provincial Police Officer and the Capital City Police Officer.

Calling for the immediate suspension of the PPP Sindh and the CCPO Karachi, the statement said: “Even today, the administrative machinery and police were given full authority to control entry into the Sindh Assembly; under special strategy some PPP(SB) workers were smuggled into the Assembly premises to commit the incident.”

A PPP legislator, Manzoor Wassan, told the BBC that the man who hurled his shoe at the former chief minister in the house had been in the service of Dr Rahim for more than four years.