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Protesting paramedics baton-charged

LAHORE, Dec 5: Police allegedly baton-charged the protesting paramedics on Wednesday and arrested senior leaders and scores of other activists of the Punjab Paramedical Alliance (PPA).

The lower-cadre employees of the state-run hospitals were protesting outside the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) for service structure and regularisation of daily wagers and contract colleagues.

Condemning the police action, the paramedics went on a complete strike all over the province and locked diagnostic services including laboratories at sate-run hospitals.

Witnesses said protesters wanted to march towards the CM’s House at GOR from the PIC when the police used force.

Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had promised last year to evolve a service structure for all paramedics. Later, the CM had been holding out assurances to paramedics whenever they launched protest. Wednesday’s was another major but ‘peaceful’ protest for the same purpose.

Several paramedics suffered injuries as the police allegedly thrashed and tortured them to foil their attempt to reach CM’s House.

The police even did not spare the female paramedics and used force in order to disperse them, according to the witnesses.

PPA Chairman Malik Munir and other senior leaders, including Malik Shoaib and Shoaib Ahmad, were also among those arrested and detained by the police.

The leadership of paramedics alleged that the police acted on the ‘instigation’ by Special Assistant to Chief Minister Khwaja Salman Rafique who had warned them in some recent meetings of dire consequences for not postponing agitation against the Punjab government. Mr Rafique was acting as main ‘mediator’ between paramedics and the government.

“It was a pressure tactic applied by Salman Rafique and his bureaucrat friends to shatter confidence of our colleagues,” senior PPA leader Rehmat Sindhu told Dawn.

He said the same tactics were used by the officials to ‘teach a lesson’ to the young doctors for launching protests against the Punjab government and finally accepted their demands.

Tension escalated at public sector hospitals all over the province shortly after arrest of the paramedics and their leaders.

The paramedics closed down services at various departments including laboratories, diagnostic services including X-Ray, CT Scan, MRI and also withdrew their services from operation theatres.

The incident also sparked off province-wide agitation. The paramedics took to the streets at major districts for the release of their colleagues.

In Lahore, hundreds of paramedics blocked one-side of the Lahore Canal near Jinnah Hospital shortly after police torture. They blocked traffic for three hours or so. Consequently, long queues of vehicles from Punjab University Campus Underpass to Thokar Bridge increased problems of motorists.

The Young Doctors Association, Punjab, intervened and warned the government of strong reaction for not resolving the paramedics issue as per promises.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, YDA Punjab Spokesman Dr Mudasar Razzaq asked the authorities concerned to immediately release all the arrested paramedics otherwise the young doctors would use option of complete OPD strike at all public sector hospitals of the province.

Later in the evening, police released all paramedics and the health department called PPA representatives for another round of talks on Thursday (today).

The PPA leaders confirmed release of their colleagues, saying that future course of action would be decided after Thursday’s meeting with government officials.