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Tense calm prevails as Rawalpindi braces for today’s strike

Tense calm prevails as Rawalpindi braces for today’s strike

l Traders, transporters to participate in shutter-down, wheel-jam l Sit-in participants offer funeral prayers for deceased,demand justice l Charged protesters torch vehicles, attack policemen in clashes near I-8

RAWALPINDI/ISLAMABAD: After a day of uncertainty and instability, a tense calm prevailed in the twin cities on Sunday, that was interrupted by isolated clashes between protesters and law enforcement personnel.

Rangers personnel took up positions around Faizabad as participants of the sit-in offered funeral prayers for their deceased comrades.

All bazaars, markets and shopping plazas in Raja Bazaar, Saddar, Commercial Market and on Murree Road from Liaquat Bagh to Waris Khan remained open. However, markets located on the stretch between Naz Cinema and Faizabad remained closed and some roads such as Soan Bridge, I.J. Principal Road etc were also blocked.

Although the situation on the roads of downtown Rawalpindi was normal, streets remained largely deserted as most people chose to stay home.

Filling stations reopened, but had erected tents around their perimeter as a precaution. Fuel was also being rationed out to motorists since oil tankers have been unable to reach the twin cities for several days now.

However, there was much trepidation about the strike call, issued by religious parties for Monday. The Rawalpindi Traders Association and cantonment traders have announced that they would observe a shutter-down.

“We will close shops in Raja Bazaar and surrounding markets to express solidarity with the religious party workers who became casualties of police action at Faizabad,” said Rawalpindi Traders Association spokesperson Naveed Kanwal.

Cantonment Traders Association President Zafar Qadri told Dawn that they would also observe a strike, adding that all bazaars and markets in cantonment areas would remain closed on Monday, but regretted the losses caused by the perpetual closure of businesses due to sit-ins and police operations.

Twin Cities Transporters’ Association President Raja Riaz also told Dawn that a wheel-jam strike would be observed in the twin cities on Monday.

“There will be no transport on the roads on Monday,” he said.

“The demands of the religious workers are genuine, but the way they are trying to force the government to accept them is wrong. We have already asked the government to allocate space for the protesters, so they do not disturb routine business in the markets,” said Mohammad Tauqeer, a trader from Raja Bazaar.

The strike call also has political support; both Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf announced their support for the shutterdown. “The government failed to handle the situation and its days are numbered,” Mr Rashid said.

He claimed that there was no proper government in the country and the PML-N’s “under-19 team” was running the affairs of the country.

PTI MPA Arif Abbasi told Dawn that his party would also support the strike call and express solidarity with the religious parties and traders.

Early on Sunday morning, protesters attacked law enforcement personnel and set ablaze six vehicles, which belonged to personnel on duty nearby. The incident occurred near the I-8 service road, next to Kachnar Park and the policemen were accosted and badly beaten by the charged demonstrators.

A police contingent rushed to help when their saw their comrades being attacked, and used batons and teargas to disperse the protesters and freed their colleagues.

Protesters also attacked and set fire to police pickets near the entrance to the capital at Faizabad, and also disabled CCTV cameras installed around area of the sit-in.

Later, police were asked to retreat from the frontlines and Rangers took their place. “Now, Rangers are at the forefront, followed by the Frontier Constabulary and police,” officials said.

Around 3,500 protesters remained at Faizabad overnight, officials said, adding that a group of 1,500-strong who had blocked Tramari Chowk were also joined by a rally came from Kotli.

Some 500 protesters were also clocking the road at T-Chowk Rawat, police said, adding that those who had blocked Tarnol Chowk, Koral Chowk, Khara Kahu and Kuri Road had cleared the area by Sunday evening.

It was also a sombre day for relatives of those killed in Saturday’s clashes, and supporters of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah and Sunni Tehreek offered funeral prayers for six of their deceased in different parts of the city.

Hundreds of people attended the funerals and the bodies of the deceased were later dispatched to their native towns for burial.

The funeral of Sunni Tehreek activist Raja Zohaib Zahid was offered at the Dhoke Khaba graveyard, while Jahanzaib Butt Qadri’s last rites were administered at Chungi No 22.

Speaking to supporters, Sunni Tehreek leader Sarwat Ijaz Qadri condemned the use of brutal tactics against the unarmed participants of the Faizabad sit-in.

“The federal law minister committed a crime by attempting to abolish the Khatm-i-Nabuwat declaration for electoral candidates. He will have to resign,” he said.

He accused police and paramilitary forces of indiscriminately firing on unarmed activists and called on the government to form a judicial commission to probe the massacre.

Qadri warned that all Eid Miladun Nabi processions would march towards Islamabad if the rulers did not changed their ways.

The funerals of Hafiz Mohammad Adeel, Ashir Kamran, Irfan Mehmood and Imran Mehmood were also held in the city, and their bodies were dispatched to their native towns Pindi Gheb, Sihala, Mandi Bahauddin and Kahuta, respectively.

Afzal Qadri also led the funeral prayers of an unknown deceased person on Faizabad Bridge, which was attended by Khadim Hussain Rizvi, Maulana Farooqul Hassan, Syed Inayatul Haq Shah, Dr Shafique, Hafiz Ahmed Raza Qadri and hundreds of other activists from the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah.

Addressing the protesters, Qadri alleged that the activist was killed outside the residence of former minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, calling on the government to lodge a case on charges of terrorism.

He and other speakers also lashed out Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal for his statement that India was backing the protesters.

Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2017

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