GILGIT, Dec 2: An army helicopter was flown in to lift the regional police chief after he was besieged by enraged people during a protest against arrest of leaders of a sectarian group following assassination of a local JUI-F leader, here on Sunday.

Police resorted to baton charge and tear gas to disperse the mob, gathered at Nomal valley, 20km south of Gilgit, to create a safe passage for the Inspector General of Police Usman Zakria to leave the spot, but to no avail, as people had pushed boulders from the nearby hills to block roads leading towards the Gilgit city. Mr Zakaria had gone to the place to ask people to lift the blockade of roads. The protesters also included women and children.

Sheikh Nayyar Abbas, general secretary of Majlis-i-Wahdat-i-Muslimeen, Gilgit-Baltistan chapter, was detained during an overnight police raid at the Nomal valley under the Maintenance of Public Order, police officials said. They added three clerics -- presidents of the two banned organisations -- Anjuman Imamia and Sipah-i-Sahaba Faqir Shah and Maulana Attaullah Saqib, and Hassan Shah Kazmi, president of Shia Ulema Council, Gilgit, were also detained for preaching sectarian hatred. The arrests were made after the GB government issued directives to launch a crackdown against the activists of various sectarian organisations.

“Though a joint team of law enforcement agencies used tear gas and baton charge to push back the protesters but they did not let police chief to leave, after which troops of Gilgit-Baltistan scouts, Punjab rangers and police commodes were called, who sued tear gas and batons to disperse the protesters,” said Deputy Inspector General of police Ali Sher. He said after the protesters were dispersed, the police chief was taken to nearby Nasirabad area on a van from where he boarded the army helicopter for Nomal valley rest house.

“Various delegations comprising elders of Nomal valley visited Mr Zakaria at the rest house and demanded release of the clerics but the police chief refused citing government directives in this regard.

Meanwhile, residents of Naltar valley, along the Karakuram Highway, also protested against the arrest of the clerics. They damaged an 18MW hydro power project in the area discontinuing electricity supply to Gilgit city, which could not be restored till filing of this report at 7pm.

Meanwhile, the general secretary of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F Maulana Attauallah Shahab said those involved in the assassination of party leader Maulana Ubaid-ur-Rehman were anti-state elements bent upon destroying peace and impeding development of the region.

Talking to reporters on Sunday, he said it was a conspiracy to push his party into sectarianism but such moves would be foiled as JUI believed only in political activism. He said certain elements were trying to sabotage the project of Diamer-Bhasha Dam and were also not happy with the geographic importance of the area.

He said if the authorities failed to trace the killers within the deadline of three days the JUI would withdraw from the peace committees.

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