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June 30, 2006

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PML-Q activists ransack press club

PESHAWAR: Dozens of people, including journalists, sustained wounds Thursday when a large number of armed activists of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League attacked and ransacked the Peshawar Press Club after their failure to prevent the party dissidents from holding a press conference.

MPA Nighat Orakzai, Arbab Akbar Hayat, Raham Dil Nawaz and Dilawar, backed by armed activists of the PML-Q, attacked the press club at 11:45am at the behest of Federal Minister for Political Affairs and Provincial President of the PML Amir Muqam, the press club President Syed Bukhar Shah said.

Giving an eyewitness account, journalists informed 'The News' that Muqam himself dropped the agitators near the press club in his jeep. The PML activists forced their way into the press club and asked the administration not to allow the PML dissidents to hold a press conference. "The demand was rejected, as the press club provides opportunity to all and sundry to express their viewpoint using the platform," said Ehtishamul Haq Toru, vice president of the press club.

The PML workers then entered a scuffle with the provincial president of recently-formed forward bloc of the PML, Haji Olas Khan, at the office of president of the press club. However, Olas managed to address the press conference, which sparked an armed attack on the press club as well as the dissidents of the party, leaving dozens of mediapersons and workers of the forward bloc wounded.

During the whole episode, the police played the role of silent spectator. The SSP and other high-ups of the police department were contacted on phone but they refused to receive the phone calls.

The police baton-charged the armed activists when they opened fire on opponents. Police also recovered an AK-47 assault rifle with three chargers and 90 bullets from a PML-Q worker. The situation turned tense inside the press club when DSP and SHO of the East Cantonment Police Station entered with a high official of a

secret agency. "This validates our stance that the attack was stage-managed," Bukhar Shah went on to allege.

Later, journalists held a protest rally and staged a sit-in in front of the Chief Minister's House. Nevertheless, NWFP Senior Minister Sirajul Haq taking strong notice of the incident assured that the MMA-led provincial government would spare no effort to ensure the sanctity of the pen. He also assured the protesting journalists that the culprits would soon be tracked down and would be dealt with sternly.

"No one is above the law. Anyone found guilty would be dealt with sternly so as no one could dare to attack journalists in future." NWFP Information Minister Asif Iqbal Daudzai and City District Nazim Haji Ghulam Ali paid separate visits to the press club and condemned the incident. They assured their all-out support to the journalist community.

Meanwhile, the general body meeting of the press club, led by Bukhar Shah, formed committees to work out future line of action. Shah hinted at launching a nationwide protest drive. Later, the press club administration lodged an FIR with the East Cantonment Police Station holding Federal Minister for Political Affairs Amir Muqam, MPA Nighat Orakzai, Arbab Akbar Hayat, Dilawar and Rahmdil Nawaz responsible for the incident.

NNI adds: The minister, however, denied that he has any role in the violence and that he has no information about any case against him. He said he was busy in a meeting at Wapda House where Federal Minister G G Jamal and FATA senators were present. He was informed there about the press club violence. He said the violence occurred because of differences among party workers of the Peshawar district.

He said a thorough investigation would be conducted to ascertain the real causes of violence in the press club premises. Meanwhile, talking to a private TV channel, Muqam expressed his ignorance of the registration of a case against him and other leaguers for pandemonium in the club. The minister said the formation of the forward bloc against him was just a rumour and PML was united.

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