LAHORE: At least eight people, including two women, were shot dead and over 85 others injured on Tuesday during a clash between police and workers of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and the Minhajul Quran International (MQI).
They were allegedly fired upon by the police for resisting the removal of illegal barriers and iron gates that had blocked at least nine roads around the PAT Secretariat and the residence of its chief Dr Tahirul Qadri in the Model Town Extension area.
The five-year-old dispute of the illegally erected iron gates and cemented barriers by PAT supporters around their secretariat and the house of Dr Qadri took an ugly turn on Tuesday morning when a heavy contingent of the anti-encroachment squad, accompanied by the police, reached the area to remove them.
According to eyewitnesses, scores of workers gathered at the spot within hours of the arrival of the police, pelted them and the anti-encroachment squad with stones and used batons to resist the removal of the barriers.
According to some eyewitnesses and the CCPO Lahore, unidentified people from amongst the MQI workers first opened fire on the police to which they retaliated. As a ‘no-go areas’ for the residents who were unable to invite guests and take the sick to hospitals and hold parties inside their homes without prior permission from the PAT guards.
Within a couple of hours, hundreds of PAT and MQI workers gathered at the scene and began raising slogans against the police and the government. Incensed at the bid, the workers resisted the law-enforcers’ effort to remove the barriers with stone-pelting and baton-charge, inviting severe shelling by the riot police. The workers climbed onto the rooftop of the secretariat and the residence of Dr Qadri from where they continued throwing stones at the police. While a number of workers took shelter behind the huge blocks of barricades and kept the police and the bulldozers of anti-encroachment squad from coming near the two premises.
Workers also raised slogans against police and the government. Some witnesses said workers also set ablaze the pushcarts and kiosks on the roads in a bid to prevent police from coming closer. Unconfirmed reports said workers also threw petrol bombs on police and some unknown persons also opened fire on police.
The riot police kept showering teargas shells to keep the mob under control. As the sun rose, the riot police called for reinforcements. The situation reached a showdown after heavy contingent of Elite police reached the area and moved the bulldozers, machinery and armoured vehicles forward. The move increased the resistance by the workers whose number had multiplied by that time.
The stone-pelting also damaged the windowpanes of dozens of houses in the area and unknown workers also smashed the windowpanes of several cars parked in the area and surrounding streets. Witnesses and residents behind the PAT Secretariat told the media that while the police and mob were engaged in scuffle, someone switched on the loud speakers of the PAT mosque and began inciting workers to teach the police a good lesson for attacking the secretariat. The unknown fire-spitting speaker termed the day ‘another battle of Karbala’ and encouraged the workers to lay down their lives for the sacred cause. The unknown man kept making provocative announcements for about half an hour before anti-encroachment squad bulldozers reached there to demolish the sheds constructed for parking the vehicles on the footpath.
It remained a mystery as to who first opened fire. The police claimed that their personnel were engaged only in firing into the air to ward off the trouble-makers who had damaged a large number of public and private properties in the area and nearby streets. But the MQI officials claimed that it was police which opened unprovoked straight fire that not only killed eight workers but also riddled the house of Dr Qadri and PAT Secretariat with hundreds of holes.
Medics confirmed that eight bodies and 85 injured were brought to Jinnah Hospital. 51 of the wounded had sustained bullet wounds. The hospital administration said 24 policemen were wounded. Condition of at least 15 PAT workers was said to be precarious. Among the dead were Tanzeela Bibi, Shazia Bibi, Safdar Hussain, and Ghulam Ali.
According to witnesses, the PAT workers threw teargas shells and stones at police as authorities fired back with teargas in running battles that did not end until police either cornered them in the building and on roads and madly fired shots and dozens of rounds of teargas. Police chased them back into the buildings and gave them a good thrashing. Aged citizens, who were caught up in the frays, were not spared by the police who beat them up till they were dragged into police vans.
Police sprayed a volley of teargas shells at the PAT workers without realising that it was a residential area where aged citizens, women and children also lived. Many families had to leave their tear-gas-filled houses in haphazard manners. Police blindly fired teargas shells of which some landed on locals’ residences. The locals termed the Lahore police action barbaric and inhuman.
Faisal Town Police have registered a case against unknown PAT workers on the complaint of a sub-inspector. The case was registered under Sections 7ATA, 302, 324, 353, 148/149 PPC. In a late night development, the government removed CCPO Ch Shafiq, DIG Operations Abdul Jabbar and SP Model Town Tariq Aziz and made them OSD. The SP had been seen chatting and hugging a man, Gullu Butt, who damaged vehicles in police presence.