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July 19, 2019

Baton charge, water cannon get in the way of nurses’ march on CM House


July 19, 2019

The anti-riot police used water cannon and batons to disperse the nurses attempting to march on the Sindh Chief Minister House from the Karachi Press Club (KPC) on Thursday to press the provincial government to accept their demands. Many of the protesters and a number of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) MPAs and workers were also arrested.

The entire red zone turned into a battlefield, causing extreme vehicular traffic jams on Dr Ziauddin Ahmed Road, II Chundrigar Road, Club Road and the adjoining roads and streets, after the protesters were thrashed by male and female police officials, who took dozens of nurses into custody and moved them to nearby police stations to prevent them from reaching the CM House.

Nurses have been boycotting their duties at Karachi’s public hospitals, including the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), the National Institute of Child Health (NICH), the Dr Ruth KM Pfau Civil Hospital Karachi and several other government hospitals, and they have been holding a sit-in at the KPC since July 4.

Before Thursday’s attempt to march on the CM House, the nurses had tried twice to reach in front of any government building. The third attempt was made after the PTI’s male and female lawmakers reached the press club in the morning and reiterated their support for the protesters’ demands.

The law enforcers exercised restraint and tried to stop the nurses and the PTI lawmakers from moving their rally into the red zone. After the protesters reached Dr Ziauddin Ahmed Road, they were subjected to batons and water cannon by the police, while many of them were arrested and taken to the nearby police stations. All the detained nurses, however, were released in the evening.

Unable to reach the CM House, the protesters held a sit-in at the PIDC roundabout and shouted slogans against the provincial government. They vowed to continue their struggle until their demands were accepted.

CM’s information and law adviser Barrister Murtaza Wahab held talks with the protesters at the roundabout and assured them that the province’s chief executive, Syed Murad Ali Shah, had issued orders for resolving their problems and accepting their demands.

“We are working on resolving your issues, as the Sindh health secretary has been asked to resolve your issues as soon as possible. A notification based on your demands will be issued within 24 hours, but I urge you not to get incited by people having ulterior political motives,” Wahab told the nurses, and assured them that all of their detained colleagues would be released without any charges against them.

The chief minister, meanwhile, expressed annoyance and displeasure over the nurses’ protest and their attempt to march on the CM House, saying that after the provincial administration had already assured them that their issues were being resolved, there was no justification for any rally and violation of laws.

“A political party is trying to turn this issue into a political one, which is unfortunate, as the people are suffering due to the days-long protest and the suspension of health services at hospitals. We are trying our best to resolve the nurses’ issues,” a spokesman for the CM quoted the chief executive as saying.

Sindh Health and Population Welfare Minister Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho also expressed her disapproval over the nurses’ protest, saying that their protest was “politically backed”.

“Their [the nurses’] issues were solved in a meeting with the government, and if they were unhappy with anything, they had an option of coming to the ministry, yet they chose to leave their duty and let the patients suffer, which is against the code they are taught.”

She said the government had once again informed the nurses that the initial agreement was still in place and a summary would be issued soon. She hoped that the nurses will stop protesting and get back to their jobs that they had abandoned.

On the other hand, the nurses vowed to continue their protest and sit-in at the KPC, saying that they would wait for the issuance of a notification by the government in accordance with the promise made by Wahab. They added that if the promise was not fulfilled by the authorities, they would be free to decide their future course of action.

“We have come back to the KPC at our protest camp, where we would continue our sit-in. If our demands are met by Friday afternoon, we would call off our protest and join our duties, otherwise we would be free to decide the future course of action,” Aijaz Kaleri, leader of the protesting nurses, told The News.

Sindh Assembly

Police on July 12 had stopped the protesting nurses from approaching the provincial assembly building, where they intended to stage a sit-in and present their demands to the lawmakers.

Several dozen nurses tried to march on the PA after the Friday prayers, but a strong contingent of the anti-riot police prevented them from moving towards the building.

The immediate adjournment of the sitting of the House also disappointed the protesting nurses, who had planned to draw the attention of the legislators towards their problems. Despite the adjournment of the assembly sitting, Kaleri managed to meet PA opposition leader Firdous Shamim Naqvi and apprised him of the issues being faced by the nurses, urging the opposition to raise their issues in the House.

He said Naqvi termed the nurses’ demands as justified, vowed to raise the protesters’ issues in the PA and present their demands before CM Shah.

The protesting health care providers said they would try to march on the PA building again next week if their demands were not met by then.

Governor House

On July 10 the anti-riot police had briefly detained at least 14 nurses after a large number of protesting health care workers tried to march on the Governor House, where Prime Minister Imran Khan was meeting traders and provincial officials.

Representatives of the protesting nurses said they wanted to gather in front of the Governor House to apprise the PM of their genuine issues that were not being resolved by the Sindh government.

The nurses decided to march on the Governor House after a delegation of the health department led by the special and additional secretaries of health tried to persuade them to call off their protest and give the health authorities at least 15 days to resolve their issues.

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