Four Pak policemen killed in clash with demonstrators
At least four policemen were martyred and over 250 injured as thousands of workers of the proscribed Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) clashed with law-enforcement personnel near Sadhoke in Gujranwala district of Pakistan's Punjab province on Wednesday.
Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar tweeted that the four police personnel were martyred due to firing by TLP workers, adding that 253 others had been injured in the violence. He further said that strict legal action will be taken against those involved in the violence.
Earlier, police spokesperson Nayab Haider confirmed the death of one policeman, whom local sources identified as Kasur ASI M. Akbar.
Later, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told a press conference that three policemen had been martyred in the violence. He said 70 police personnel had been injured, of whom eight were in critical condition.
More than 30 policemen injured in the clashes were taken to the Muridke Tehsil Headquarters (THQ) Hospital, while 35 injured personnel were shifted to the Sheikhupura District Headquarters (DHQ) Hospital, according to Medical Superintendent Dr Azhar Amin.
Meanwhile, a Punjab police spokesman told Reuters: “TLP activists used SMG, AK 47 and pistols to target police officials as the result of which several officials were martyred.”
Videos on social media showed the aftermath of shelling reportedly carried out during the clashes. Dawn.com could not verify the claims.
The TLP claimed that several of their activists had also been killed or wounded, according to Reuters.
Police said the clashes were triggered after they tried to block the TLP activists' march towards Islamabad.
TLP accuses Sheikh Rashid of lying
Earlier in the day, the TLP's central committee accused Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid of lying that matters between it and the government had been settled, adding that the protesters would now depart from Muridke soon for their announced destination of Islamabad.
In a statement issued by the group's central committee, TLP leader Syed Sarwar Shah Saifi said: "Sheikh Rashid lied yesterday that matters have been resolved. He also lied about contact [with us] at 8pm — from then till now no government official, including Sheikh, has contacted [us]."
"Let the entire nation see the malicious intent of the government," the statement said.
On Tuesday, Rashid had said that the government did not have any "reservations" on the TLP's demands and there was agreement on all issues discussed with the group — except for the matter of the French ambassador's expulsion.
He reiterated that the government and TLP had reached an agreement on all other issues and that he would contact the group again at 8pm.
No agreement without expulsion
After Rashid announced that the government could not meet the TLP’s demand for expulsion of the French ambassador, the party had said its activists would now march onto Islamabad.
Regarding the expulsion, Saifi said that France had committed blasphemy at the government level and the TLP thus expected an official response from the incumbent government.
"Are these claimants of the state of Madina unable to respond to France? Have they become so enslaved to the Jews and the Christians?" the TLP leader questioned.
The statement called upon the government to fulfil its agreement of expelling the French ambassador, saying that the group had abided by the agreement and given three days, despite losing 40 lives.
Saifi said the demands would increase if more blood was spilt and the nation would be "rid of this dishonest, lying and hypocritical government". He said it would be better if the agreement was abided by and TLP chief Saad Hussain Rizvi was released so the group could go back.
"Don't lie to the nation. No negotiations are being done with us. The government is not sincere in negotiations but if more blood is shed now, revenge will be taken," the statement said.
The statement also criticised the prime minister, saying that he had "nothing to do" with the nation.
"The people should know that these faithless are neither loyal to the country nor the nation and the 'captain' is planted in the country for [sowing] discord and chaos."
The statement again reiterated that the prime minister and the government would be responsible for any more bloodshed and loss of lives. It said that the TLP had thrice made agreements with the government previously and this would be the fourth time.
Fazl criticises violence against TLP
Meanwhile, Pakistan Democratic Movement chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman lashed out at the government for the alleged violence against the TLP workers headed to Islamabad.
"Regardless of whether their demands are right or wrong, protesting for their demands is their democratic and legal right," he said while addressing a press conference in Islamabad, adding that workers were also subjected to violence in Lahore earlier.
"They say that between 10-12 workers were martyred in Lahore, and now they say that a lot of people have been injured in today's incident."
The PDM chief also questioned the basis on which the TLP protesters were being subjected to violence.
"The strange thing is that when their rally was against Nawaz Sharif it was correct, but when it is against Imran Khan, it is wrong and akin to taking the law into one's hands."
He condemned the government's alleged "high-handedness". "You can't target religious people just to show the world that you are targeting extremists [...] they are people protesting for their rights," he said.
Islamabad and Rawalpindi sealed off
Earlier on Tuesday night, the district administrations of Rawalpindi and Islamabad had blocked the Faizabad intersection while law enforcement agencies began sealing areas and roads with containers to prevent the TLP protesters from entering the federal capital territory.
According to sources, police deployment was to be carried out in the garrison city before dawn and the roads were to be blocked with containers and barbed wire to prevent any protest.
The TLP had launched the latest round of protests in Lahore on the 12th of Rabiul Awwal, primarily to exert pressure on the Punjab government for the release of its chief, Hafiz Saad Hussain Rizvi, the son of its late founder Khadim Rizvi. The younger Rizvi has been kept in detention by the Punjab government since April 12 for “maintenance of public order".
Later, it had announced to march on Islamabad, prompting the government to block the routes leading to the capital.
However, TLP leader Pir Ajmal Qadri had later said the purpose of the move was "respect for the Holy Prophet (PBUH)", while also demanding Rizvi's release.
Meanwhile, as the group's workers had marched towards the capital, at least three policemen were martyred in clashes with them.
TLP leaders had also claimed that several of the groups' workers had been injured in the clashes and scores were arrested, only to be released later.
Following the release of TLP workers, Rashid had said another round of talks with the group would be held at the Ministry of Interior in Islamabad.
On Monday, Rashid had assured to fulfil the commitments the government made with the TLP during negotiations a day earlier, saying the matter would be discussed during a federal cabinet meeting on Wednesday following Prime Minister Imran Khan's return from Saudi Arabia.