LAHORE - At least eight members of the Pakistan Awami Tehrik were shot dead Tuesday in clashes with police in Model Town, Lahore, while policemen were seen displaying sheer brutality by baton-charging even faint, profusely-bleeding injured people being carried by medics and rescuers.
Two women were among those killed in the fierce clashes between riot police and PAT activists.
Dozens more were wounded as police opened gunfire and tear gas to disperse the protesters outside the PAT Secretariat located a few hundred meters from Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s residence in the posh neighbourhood.
It comes as Canada-based PAT chief Dr Tahirul Qadri plans to return to Pakistan on June 23 to lead a countrywide anti-government campaign he brands revolution.
Lahore police said the clashes broke out after Qadri’s supporters offered stiff resistance as police helped the civil administration remove barriers outside the PAT Secretariat in Model Town. The protesters pelted cops with stones, police said.
“Police had to retaliate. They (protesters) were using AK-47s. They were firing indiscriminately on the policemen,” said Punjab Inspector General of Police (IGP) Mushtaq Ahmed Sukhera at a news conference.
However, independent verification confirmed no policeman had been shot dead.
There were conflicting reports regarding the number of deaths. Lahore Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Chaudhry Shafique Ahmed said that eight people, including two women, died during the clashes.
On the other hand, a spokesperson for PAT claimed that up to 12 of its workers were killed as police opened indiscriminate fire on the protesters. Police also arrested 50 protesters, the party said.
“We have received eight dead bodies including two of women. All of them had bullet wounds,” Jinnah Hospital’s Medical Superintendent Dr Abdul Rauf told reporters outside the emergency ward.
As many as 80 injured are admitted to the hospital. Out of them 40 people sustained bullet wounds while 40 were brought with other injuries. “They are all under intensive medical treatment in the emergency ward,” Rauf said. Three of the wounded are said to be in serious condition.
Lahore Operations Police Chief Rana Abdul Jabbar said the clashes began when police went to the Minhajul Quran Secretariat to launch an anti-encroachment drive late Monday night. But Qadri’s supporters resisted the operation which caused clashes between the protesters and police, he said. Heavy police contingents were called in before dawn to control the activists but the situation went out of control as police fired shots and tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Police also said: The PAT activists pelted the police with stones and police used tear gas to disperse them. The police managed to complete the operation and remove the barriers despite resistance. Two private vehicles were burnt down while several other vehicles were damaged during the clashes.
“It was like a battlefield. Both sides used weapons. Many people fell unconscious as police fired tear gas amid high temperature,” eyewitness Muhammad Mustafa said. However, cops were seen looking the other way while ‘police touts’ wielding clubs smashed windows of parked vehicles.
National TVs showed a man named Gullu Butt smashing cars’ windows, then shaking hands with and hugging cops before dancing to celebrate. It all reflected the mindset of the law enforcers and their political masters who then make customary public appearances to offer compensations, apologies or make promises of inquiries.
Police claimed more than 30 cops including SP headquarters sustained serious injuries. Police said two of the cops are in critical condition.
Police were yet to ascertain the identity of the dead by the time of going to press.
There were hundreds of PAT activists, including women, present in the Secretariat when the police launched the anti-encroachment drive to clear the area reportedly on the complaint of local residents. The club-wielding protesters attacked cops, police said.
PAT activists came down on the Punjab chief minister as they were convinced he had ordered the police to open fire on the protesters. The security barriers outside PAT Secretariat had been there for over four years, and had never posed any problem to area residents before, the party activists said.
“Why police swooped late night? Why they launched the operation covertly,” questioned Muhammad Naeem, one of the injured persons.
Police have also registered a criminal case against PAT supporters and 10 persons are nominated in the FIR. “The state is complainant in the case registered against the miscreants,” IGP told reporters while addressing a news conference at the Central Police Office (CPO) on Tuesday evening. The government has also ordered a judicial inquiry. Police have also launched an internal probe to fix the responsibility.
Accompanied by Lahore CCPO, DIG (Operations) and DIG (Investigations), the provincial police chief failed to respond to media queries. IGP Mushtaq Sukhera left the news conference visibly dumbed and angered by questions.
He had no answers when crime reporters repeatedly asked who ordered the police to open fire on the protesters. He did not reply either when asked why police decided to remove barriers from outside the PAT Secretariat in the first place when such barriers had been there for long, and when such barriers are also seen in front of every important installation in Lahore, including police headquarters.
“An inquiry has been initiated under the supervision of Additional-IG Punjab Sarmad Saeed to probe into the incident,” the newly-appointed police chief said.
“Since the government has ordered judicial inquiry to probe into the incident, we all are ready to present ourselves for investigations,” the IGP said. The police chief also expressed sorrow and grief over the loss of lives. Faisal Town police have registered a case (FIR No 510/14) under section 353/324/302/148/149 PPC and 7-ATA against several PAT men. According to police sources, at least 10 PAT activists are nominated as accused in the FIR.
A three-member committee comprising top police officers including Additional-IG Sarmad Saeed Khan, DIG Ali Aamir Malik and AIG Hussain Habib Imtiaz has launched investigations.
“At this stage it is premature to say who killed whom. We are investigating. We will investigate each and every aspect of the happening,” Lahore CCPO Chaudhry Shafique Ahmed said at a news conference.