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(Threshold of Pain) Riots Break out Over Power Cuts

Posted by on Monday, October 3, 2011, 10:45
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Anger over extraordinary power outages spilled onto the streets on Sunday, with rioters blocking the roads and clashing with police around the city.

People Protest
People Protest

Clashes between police and protestors in the city’s north continued late into Sunday night as the authorities sought to restore traffic on the Ring Road. Another major protest was held on Multan Road in the southwest. Several protestors and at least 10 police officers were injured in the two protests in the jurisdictions of Chuhng and Harbanspura police. The former later arrested 20 people for disturbing public order while the latter were conducting operations to arrest suspects.

Smaller demonstrations of up to 200 people were held at Liberty roundabout, parts of Canal Bank Road, near Jinnah Hospital in Faisal Town, Defence Mor on Walton Road, Ferozepur Road, Minar-i-Pakistan and Taxali Gate. The length of power outages in Lahore has risen sharply in the past week, culminating in 18 hours without electricity each day in much of the city over the weekend. Meanwhile at a seminar at Alhamra, the chief minister said that the federal government was to blame for the excessive load-shedding in Punjab that had exacerbated the suffering of dengue patients. The federal government was treating the province “like a step-brother”, he said.

The trouble in the north began at around 2pm as some two thousand protestors blocked the Ring Road near Mehmood Booti. At around 6pm, the police made an effort to clear the protestors but they responded by throwing stones. The police fired shots in the air to drive them back and a lengthy standoff ensued. The protestors divided into small groups armed with rocks and bricks and set fire to the jeeps of Cantonment Superintendent of Police (SP) Hashmat Kamal and Baghbanpura Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Asim Iftikhar. Six officers including the latter were injured.

SP Kamal said that some protestors were armed and had fired at the police. “We did not want to aggravate the situation but they left us no option,” he said. “We told them they were just making life difficult for their fellow citizens but they did not listen.”

The protest in the southwest began early, with mosques in Chuhng urging people to come out of their houses to protest against the power outages. Some two thousand people had gathered at Multan Road by around 10am and blocked traffic from both sides.

An hour later, the Chuhng station house officer (SHO) accompanied by a sizable force arrived at the scene in plain clothes and urged the protestors to remain peaceful. The police did not interfere.

However, 30 minutes later, a police team led by the Chuhng DSP arrived at the scene and began telling the protestors to move and firing teargas shells. The protestors responded violently, tossing back the shells and throwing rocks. The protestors also charged at traffic and damaged six cars. The DSP and his men soon left.

A much larger police contingent arrived at 3pm and baton-charged the rioters. This correspondent witnessed one policeman, Assistant Sub Inspector Niazi, firing into the air in fear as protestors closed in on him.

Usman, a Chunhg resident and protestor, said that he and his neighbours had endured six-hour power cuts either side of one hour of electricity the night before. He said that the lights returned some four hours after the protest started.

Mustafa, another protestor, said that the violence only began when the police “attacked” them. “Had they just been there for security it would have remained peaceful,” he said. Around a hundred people held placards and banners and chanted slogans on Canal Bank Road. Zain, a student, said that he would protest peacefully but would not give up the right to protest. Another hundred or so people protested in Defence at Ghazi Chowk and threw stones at a grid station.

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