Protests against gas shortage continued on Tuesday, disrupting traffic between the twin cities. Skirmishes between protesters and police continued at Faizabad, blocking the Islamabad Expressway. Attendance at educational institutes and government offices also remained thin on the second day of protests.
An angry mob was engaged with the riot police for over five hours on the highway, which was closed for all forms of traffic. The call for strike against the price hike and gas shortage was given by transporters association.
The Industrial Area police charged CNG Association President Ghiyas Paracha, Muttahida Transport Action Committee (MTAC) President Malik Sultan Awan, three other transport association officials and 150 protesters for provoking and leading the protests. The police arrested at least 24 protesters. They were charged for burning a Suzuki Bolan (GV-104) on the Islamabad Highway on the first day of protests.
Angry protesters pelted riot police with stones and damaged private vehicles.
The violent protests were set off by the people who could not get to work in the morning after arriving at bus stops. Later, many young people from nearby areas joined in and blocked the road.
“I fail to understand where this country is going. People are protesting for their basic rights on a daily basis but the government is unmoved,” said Asim Ahmed, one of commuters standing in Shamsabad.
“The young hooligans joined in the genuinely irked commuters and provoked clashes with the police,” said Industrial Area Police Station House Officer (SHO) Rukhsar Mehdi. He ruled out the possibility that political elements were motivating the protests.
The SHO also dispelled the impression that the protesters fired gunshots in the air, saying that the shots were rubber bullets fired by the riot police to disperse the mob. Tear gas was also used.
However, a police official said that he was surprised at the Punjab police’s reluctance to take action against the protesters who were coming from areas under the Rawalpindi police’s jurisdiction.
The Islamabad police complained that their Rawalpindi counterparts did not cooperate and took no serious action to stop people from piling on to the highway.
The protesters and police kept pelting stones and other projectiles for the better part of five hours and dispersed only after the police began arresting people. The Expressway was reopened for traffic soon after.
The Bhara Kahu police also arrested 10 people for disrupting traffic near Athal Chowk by blocking the road in protest.
The CNG stations and transport associations refused to call off the strike, maintaining that the government did not accept all of their demands.
Traffic remained sparse on major roads in the garrison city as motorists worried at the risk of violence by protesters. However traffic became normal in the suburbs as Suzuki vans were plying on the roads and a few gas stations supplied gas to transporters.
Students and government workers were unable to reach their destinations due to the unavailability of public transport and the fear of violence.
Public transporters also blocked GT Road near the Soan River near the high court, causing a traffic jam in the morning as protesters burnt tyres on the road.
With no alternatives on offer, taxi and rickshaw drivers were seen fleecing commuters with inflated fares.
Commuters said that according to the Rawalpindi Regional Transport Authority (RTA) the fares for wagons and Suzuki vans were fixed in accordance with diesel and petrol, giving transporters no right to strike.
MTAC President Awan claimed that the last time the RTA increased fares was in March 2008, and since then no demand for increase by transporters had been made because they switched to using CNG as a cheaper fuel alternative.
“If we charged fares keeping based on petroleum prices, the present rates would double,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 4th, 2012.