ISLAMABAD: The government on Saturday called out the army after clashes broke out in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi and other major cities of the country when police and paramilitary forces cracked down on protesters from Tehreek Labaik Pakistan (TLP) who were blocking the Faizabad Interchange. The army would be deployed for an indefinite period to maintain peace in Islamabad, according to a notification issued by the Interior Ministry after an approval from Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.
The statement of Ministry of Interior read: "...is pleased to authorize deployment of sufficient number of troops of Pakistan Army to be determined by the Commander 111 Brigade, in aid of civil power, to control law and order situation in Islamabad Capital Territory with effect from November 25 till further orders".
The government used its powers under Article 245 of the Constitution to call in the army in aid of the civil administration.
Earlier in the day, seven people were killed and over 200 people, including police officers, were injured as forces moved to disperse a sit-in that had virtually paralysed the country´s capital for weeks.
Smoke and tear gas filled the air as the roughly 8,500 elite police and paramilitary troops in riot gear were also seen throwing rocks and using slingshots in the ongoing bid to clear 2,000 or so hardline demonstrators which began soon after dawn.
Four dead bodies were brought to District Headquarters Hospital, Rawalpindi, while Holy Family Hospital and Benazir Bhutto Hospital received one body each. One person was killed in Hafizabad district of Punjab. The three bodies were bullet riddled, one was with a dagger injury, while post-mortem on two could not be conducted. However, police sources strictly denied use of any lethal weapon, including bullet guns.
The battle between the law enforcement agencies and the sit-in protesters started around 7:50 am. The charged officials of police, Frontier Constabulary and Rangers, chanting full-throat slogans of Allah-ho-Akbar marched towards Faizabad Flyover which had been occupied by the protesters for 20 days. But, the protesters showing stiff resistance pushed back the police. The police started firing teargas shells which compelled the protesters to go back.
All kinds of traffic was suspended during operation in Faizabad area. The local administration ordered immediate cloure of all schools along the Murree Road. The school managements immediately sent students to their homes due to the operation. The protesters also damaged government properties.
However the crackdown was 'suspended' in the evening as the protesters took over the streets in the federal capital and it became difficult for the forces to control the situation. The atmosphere continued to remain tense even late in the night.
The security forces could not arrest the sit-in leadership including Khadim Hussain Rizvi till late night. The protesters have surrounded leadership and have prevented police and Rangers from nearing the leadership.
There are prison vans and ambulances deployed at the site. Helicopters and drones are being used by the authorities for aerial surveillance. Police have also used water cannons to disperse the protesters.
AFP reporters at the site said more protesters were arriving, though it was difficult to tell how many. Trees had been cut down to block roads, and the protesters were burning tyres.
At least 110 injured people have been taken to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in Islamabad, a spokesman from the hospital told AFP, adding that 66 of them were members of the security forces.
An Islamabad police spokesman confirmed that a policeman was martyred in the fighting after he was struck in the head by a rock. Television footage showed a police van and demonstrators´ tents on fire.
An Islamabad police official had said before the violent clashes that the operation sought to avoid any loss of life on either side.
The sit-in by the little-known hardline group TLP had blocked the Faizabad Interchange used by hundreds of thousands of commuters since November 6, causing hour-long traffic snarls and enraging commuters.
AFP reporters at the scene said small scuffles had broken out as protesters hurled rocks at police. Others were detained as security forces began to clear the site. Some ambulances could be seen in the area but it was not clear if there had been any injuries.
Despite the protest´s relatively small size, authorities have hesitated to act against it, citing fears of violence as the demonstrators have vowed to die for their cause.
In the morning hours, it looked like the police would clear the roads but the protesters regrouped by mid-day to re-occupy the interchange bridge, forcing the authorities to suspend the operation temporarily.
Earlier the government inaction had drawn the fury of the courts as well as millions of residents in Islamabad and neighbouring Rawalpindi.
The Supreme Court and the Islamabad High Court issued blistering criticism and threatened to hold officials in contempt for their inaction.
Analysts and critics have accused the government of bungling its response to the protest, and allowing a minor issue to grow into a headline-grabbing and potentially dangerous situation.
It set an alarming precedent, that "anytime anyone is upset with the government, the capital may be choked and the government will bend its knees," warned Zeeshan Salahuddin of the Center for Research and Security Studies, a think tank in Islamabad.
Some protesters wearing gas masks were also seen throwing tear gas canisters back to police while others were pelting the police with stones using sling-shots.
An emergency has been declared in the hospitals of the federal capital in the wake of the crackdown.
Complying with court orders, the district administration of Islamabad earlier on Friday had issued final warning to protesters to clear Faizabad interchange and other main roads by midnight.
On Friday, Islamabad High Court had ordered the federal capital administration to end the ongoing Faizabad sit-in by Sunday.
The protesters belonging to religious parties — Tehreek-e-Khatm-e-Nabuwwat, the TLP and the Sunni Tehreek Pakistan — are calling for the sacking of Law Minister Zahid Hamid and strict action against those behind the amendment to the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat oath in the Elections Act 2017. The amendment had earlier been deemed a ‘clerical error’ and has already been rectified.But the hardline clerics refused to call of the protests until the minister is sacked.
Islamabad city magistrate on Friday had issued a warning to protesters to disperse by midnight or face consequences.
Meanwhile, protesters attacked the house of Law Minister Zahid Hamid in Pasroor in Punjab's Sialkot district but no one was injured as the minister and his family were not present.
The rioters also attacked the house of former interior minister Nisar Ali Khan in Faizabad area of Rawalpindi. The irate men broke the main gate and tried to enter the premises but were confronted by police and security guards.
PML-N MNA Mian Javed Latif was thrashed by protesters in Sheikhupura and was being treated for injuries in hospital.
Skirmishes also erupted between police and protesters in various parts of Lahore, leaving dozens injured. Angry mob blocked GT Road at Shahdara and torched the local police station. At least seven people, including the SHO, were injured. Four companies of Rangers were deployed to control law and order and protect sensitive installations in Lahore.Protesting mobs also blocked several main roads of the city.
On Mall Road outside the Punjab Assembly, the participants of a sit-in tore down the posters of former premier Nawaz Sharif and flags of the ruling party. In his speech, Jalali demanded that the sit-in would continue till the entire cabinet was removed and the ministers responsible for amending the Khatam-e-Nubawwat oath were hanged.
The deputy commissioner Lahore has summoned four more companies of Pakistan Rangers to maintain law and order situation in the provincial capital.
Meanwhile, police rounded up 200 activists from various parts of Lahore and dispatched them to different jails and lockups.
Police resorted to baton-charge and teargas shelling to disperse the charged workers on Multan Road near Pattoki bypass. The protesters pelted stones at police. Seven police officials and five media persons were injured in the incident. Scores of protesters were also wounded as police arrested 25 of them.
Protests were also reported from Multan, Gujranwala, Toba Tek Singh, Faisalabad, Sialkot, Dera Ghazi Khan, Jaranwala, Okara, Muzaffargarh and Malakwal.
In a related development, Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) head Hamid Raza gave a strike call for (today) Sunday and vowed to continue protests till the government steps down. Muttahida Tehrik Khatam Nubawwat Rabita Committee urged the government to restrain from using force.
PAT chief Dr Tahir ul Qadri told his party meeting that none else but Nawaz was behind the controversial amendment in the laws, which he claimed, were made with the help of foreign powers.
In Jhang, PML-N MNA Sheikh Muhammad Akram during a protest demanded immediate resignation from Zahid Hamid and Minister of State for IT and Telecom Anusha Rehman.
Also Karachi’s thoroughfares, streets and alleyways harked back to the times of political unrest when the metropolis would shut down within minutes, leaving roads vacant except for a few stragglers and bringing all routine life and business activities to a standstill.
Clashes broke out in different parts of Karachi, where police tried clearing the roads of the agitators. Panic gripped the country’s financial hub following the appearance of masked men, who forcibly closed shops, markets and business centres in response to the crackdown in Islamabad.
People left their workplaces early to reach home without running into any untoward incident, but the sudden surge of vehicles on roads caused a traffic mess at various traffic intersections.
Public transport eventually disappeared from the city’s roads following incidents of arson, as many people were seen waiting at bus stops. The situation worsened when enraged groups poured out onto the roads to block various intersections, stopping vehicular traffic movement in many localities.
A large number of protesters had also appeared at Numaish Chowrangi, Hassan Square, Shaheed-e-Millat Expressway, Sohrab Goth, Tower, Teen Hatti, Hub River Road, Northern Bypass, Old Sabzi Mandi Teen Talwar, Korangi Crossing and Korangi No 2½.
Over a dozen people, including Memon Goth SHO Gulzar Tunio, suffered bullet wounds when law enforcers and protesters came to blows at Star Gate, Sharea Faisal.
The agitators also set fire to two vehicles and hurled stones at passing vehicles to force them to stop.
Malir SSP Rao Anwaar said police were negotiating with the protesters to open the road for vehicular traffic when unidentified men fired gunshots at random people, adding that the attack caused a stampede in which over a dozen people, including Tunio and a Malir policeman suffered bullet wounds.
Anwaar said police fired teargas to disperse the agitators who had regrouped to block Sharea Faisal, but law enforcers removed them from Star Gate and restored traffic.
Clashes were also reported at the Nursery and FTC Flyover areas of Sharea Faisal. Police fired teargas at the protesters, as the agitators pelted law enforcers with stones.
In Saddar a dozen people were injured when agitators clashed with pushcart vendors. Saddar SP Tauqeer Muhammad Naeem said the vendors at the Empress Market had retaliated to the protesters’ attempt to shut down their business activities.
At the time this report was being filed, clashes were under way in Malir’s Kala Board neighbourhood, where agitators set fire to a truck. Police resorted to aerial gunshots and fired teargas to disperse them, but they continued their sit-in by blocking the National Highway.
Also demonstrations were still under way at Numaish Chowrangi, Hub River Road, Al-Asif Square, Orangi Town No 5, Teen Talwar, Liaquatabad Daak Khana, Teen Hatti, Mosamiat Chowrangi, Dawood Chowrangi, Landhi and Korangi No 2½.
Train service to the upcountry was also suspended due to violent protests in the city. Railway officials said that no train had departed from the Karachi Cantonment railway station since 1pm.
At the last count, 44 people had been wounded in clashes across the metropolis. The injured were taken to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), the Dr Ruth Pfau Civil Hospital Karachi (CHK), the Liaquat National Hospital (LNH) and the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH).
JPMC acting additional police surgeon (APS) Dr Sheeraz Ahmed said 28 injured were brought to the hospital, adding that 25 men had suffered bullet wounds, two were injured by stones and one by a sharp object.
CHK APS Dr Qarar Abbasi said a dozen injured were brought to the hospital’s trauma centre, adding that the men had been wounded after being hit with sticks and stones. Moreover, three injured protesters were taken to the LNH, while the wounded Memon Goth SHO was admitted to the AKUH.
Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah directed provincial police chief IGP AD Khowaja and the city commissioner to settle the issues of the protesters by negotiating with them. Murad also ordered clearing all the roads to restore vehicular traffic.
Home Minister Suhail Siyal said the civil administration was in contact with the leaders and participants of the protests, adding that efforts were under way to end the demonstrations through dialogue.
Rangers Sindh Director General Maj Gen Muhammad Saeed has directed the paramilitary force to cooperate with the city police to bring the deteriorating law and order situation under control.
Two reporters of Geo News channel were injured while covering violent protests in different areas of the metropolis on Saturday.According to sources a reporter Tariq Abul Hassan was injured while covering protest in Sohrab Goth area while Talha Hashmi received injuries during protest coverage at Nursery area.
Ms Umaima Malik, a reporter of Geo News, confirmed on telephone that Geo’s two reporters Talha and Hassan had been injured during violent protests. They were shifted to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital and Civil Hospital Karachi for treatment.
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The reference was filed by the Election Commission of Pakistan in November