From Abid Usman
Lahore: Protests continued in parts of the country on Tuesday for a second day as supporters of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) demonstrated against the arrest of party chief Allama Saad Hussain Rizvi. Major intersections remained closed in Lahore while traffic was upended in Islamabad and Karachi. Further, Motorway Police advised citizens to avoid travelling unnecessarily, adding that Motorway M-1 and M-2 were open for all kinds of traffic.
In a statement, party spokesperson Tayyab Rizvi said that there was no truth to reports that the protests had been called off. “They will continue till the French ambassador is deported,” he said.
He added that party workers will participate in the protests till they are told otherwise by the party chief. He also said party workers had been martyred in firing incidents in Karachi, Lahore and Talagang. “The number of TLP workers martyred has risen to 12,” he said.
A day earlier, at least two people were killed and several others, including policemen, injured when violence erupted in major cities of the country. The government had not commented on these protests, which have been ongoing for a second day today, till the filing of this report.
The TLP is protesting blasphemous caricatures published in France and demanding that the French ambassador be sent home and import of goods from that country banned.
The government had reached an agreement with the TLP on Nov 16 to involve the parliament to decide the matter in three months. As the Feb 16 deadline neared, the government expressed its inability to implement the agreement and sought more time. The TLP agreed to delay its protest by two-and-a-half months to April 20. On Sunday, the party chief, in a video message, asked the TLP workers to be ready to lunch the long march if government failed to meet the deadline. It prompted the government to arrest him.
Police swooped on Rizvi at around 2pm on Wahdat Road in Lahore where he had gone to attend a funeral. Outraged, the TLP issued a call for countrywide protests. Within the next few hours, protesters took to the streets and blocked the Grand Trunk Road on a number of points.
All main cities like Lahore, Gujranwala, Islamabad and Peshawar were cut off from each other and the rest of the country. The activists held sit-ins at various points in Hyderabad and Sukkur. They blocked highways, motorways and train tracks, disrupting life in a better part of the country and causing violence as protesters clashed with police at many places.
Meanwhile, Islamabad police on Tuesday urged citizens to use alternate routes instead of Dhokri Chowk, Bhara Kahu, Kashmir Chowk, Rawat T Chowk, Tarnol, Faizabad and IJP Chowk. Rawal Road, Tramri Road, Faisal Avenue, Express Road and Margalla Road are open for traffic, a spokesperson for Islamabad police said.
Jinnah Avenue, Srinagar Highway as well as 7th, 9th, 10th and 11th Avenue were open for traffic, he said, adding that Ataturk Avenue and Shahra-i-Dastoor were also open for all kinds of traffic. He urged citizens to avoid travelling unnecessarily and adding that officials were working to address the issues being faced by the people.
The Karachi traffic police said that while protesters had dispersed from most parts of the city, demonstrations were still on going in three areas of the metropolis.
“Sit-ins are being staged at Orangi Town No. 5, Korangi 2.5 and Hub River Road. Alternate routes are being provided at the protest sites,” the statement said.
Baldia Town police station ASI Farooq Ahmed added that police were trying to clear Hub River Road to ensure the smooth flow of traffic. However, TLP workers had pelted officials with stones, he said. Officials are trying to control the situation, he said, adding that no casualty had been reported.
Protests disrupted Covid-19 oxygen
Meanwhile, Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid said the disruption of oxygen supplies during protests on Monday night had been a “crisis”. “Please do not block roads for ambulances and for visitors to the hospitals. Some ambulances are carrying oxygen cylinders, which are extremely essential for Covid patients,” Rashid said.
Punjab pandemic pointman Asad Aslam said several hospitals had faced oxygen shortages on Monday night, but the situation had stabilised after roads were cleared by authorities.