LAHORE/FAISALABAD/SIALKOT: People have had enough. Having suffered from outrageous lack of power – for the better part of the day for days on end like never before – the powerless have taken to the streets.
For the third day running, the protests are not just violent, their intensity and sweep – from small towns to big cities – across Punjab is now overwhelming.Roads, both inner and outer city, were being blocked with ritual burning of tyres, vehicles public and private have been pelted with stones and burnt, banks and other property has been ransacked and set on fire. There have been casualties, with two dead and scores injured.With the protests turning into hysteric outings for the masses, calls for civil disobedience and long march towards Islamabad are no longer mere threats, but a real possibility.
And though the inspiration is no longer exclusively coming from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, members of parliament from the Pakistan People’s Party have borne the brunt of people’s fury. If anything is a public indictment of the PPP’s management of the energy crisis, this is it. What is worse, the fire-back from the guards of MPs under mortal threat has resulted in deaths – something not likely to be a bonanza at the hustings for PPP.The misery of the people has multiple layers. The load shedding has not just drastically affected their lifestyle, it has discomfited them way beyond that. No electricity means no water, and worse still, no jobs.
And to add insult to injury, monthly bills just distributed are inflated, adding to their misery no end in times of financial strife. Following are details of what happened where. In Gujranwala, angry protesters set ablaze an inter-city train in frenzied angst.The train runs between Lahore and Sialkot and is known as “Baoo Train”. The incident took place at Kamonki.The fire completely gutted three carriages of the train, but no casualty was reported. In Faisalabad, demonstrators took out the biggest protest so far, blocked Samundri Road and protested against unannounced power cuts while factory owners reached MEPCO office. The protesters attacked three banks and a CNG station, indulging in looting and forced closure of shopping centers on Jaranwala Road. Pelted with stones, policemen resorted to teargas shelling.
The angry protesters, most of them power loom workers, also pelted stones at vehicles, damaging public and private property. Initially, police parties played the role of silent spectators, allowing the protesters to freely go on rampage, however, extra contingents were later called in who repulsed the mob by restoring to tear gas shelling and arresting dozens of people. In the fresh protests, hundreds of people marched on roads and chanted anti-government slogans – calling for an end to the 22-hour-long power cuts that have severely affected industries, businesses and the daily life at times when mercury has gone up.
Protesters in Gojra and Mandi Bahauddin blocked the main intersections. In Sargodha, angry residents of the suburban areas damaged a WAPDA office and police were called to disperse the crowd and control the situation. According to reports, clashes between the protesters and police resulted in injuries to a DSP, an SHO and five policemen.In Khanewal, there were demonstrations in various parts of the city and teargas was used frequently. A teenager was killed and seven injured in firing by a guard of MNA Hamid Yar Haraj. In Zafarwal, a man was killed in the firing by the guard of MNA Tariq Anis, while four others were injured. Slogan-chanting protesters in Chakwal blocked the Lahore-Islamabad motorway and burnt PPP flags.
A large number of students also protested against power outages in Lower Dir district and blocked the Dir-Afghanistan highway. Demonstrations were also held in Lahore, Gujranwala and Jhang. Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah predictably held the federal government responsible for power crisis.He said the number of power protesters might turn into thousands if force was used against them and the problem remained unresolved. At Sialkot’s China Chowk, hundreds of businessmen staged a peaceful sit-in, blocking traffic on the main Sialkot-Sambrial-Wazirabad Road and Sialkot-Pasrur Road for about two hours by burning tyres. The protesting businessmen also marched on various main inter-city roads including Kutchery Road, Paris Road, Railway Road, Commissioner Road, Jail Road, Khadim Ali Road and Small Industrial Estate Road. – PT