MULTAN / FAISALABAD / PESHAWAR / RAWALPINDI: The electricity shortfall in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa triggered violent protests in different towns and cities of the two provinces as power outages stretched to 22 hours on Sunday.
Sources in the water and power ministry said the electricity shortfall reached 8,000 megawatts, with the closure of two power plants due to the non-availability of fuel.
Alarmed by the violent protests, President Asif Ali Zardari directed Water and Power Minister Ahmed Mukhtar to immediately take measures and address the problem.
Large-scale demonstrations turned increasingly violent as scores of people took to the streets, overpowering the police and damaging public property, to vent their anger at the government.
The protesters set ablaze the offices of local power company, causing a loss of more than Rs12 million, according to officials.
The protesters moved on to the jurisdictions of Saddar and City police, where they ransacked the jail. Taking advantage of the chaos, nine high-profile prisoners escaped from their cells.
While the police resorted to baton-charge to disperse the irate protesters, they were overpowered by the protesters, who managed to loot weapons from police stations.
As many as five police personnel as well as Deputy Superintendent of Police Zafar Dogar, who led the police force, were injured in the clashes.
According to the SHO Saeed Ajmal Rana, a case has been lodged against some 600 protesters.
The protesters also attacked the house of Pakistan Peoples Party lawmaker Zahid Iqbal, hurling stones and smashing windows. According to witnesses, armed gunmen opened fire on the demonstrators. A flour factory and CNG station, owned by Iqbal, were also attacked.
MPA Shehzad Saeed Cheema of the PPP said power outages was a national crisis but the Punjab government was politicising it. “My message is simple: We will answer with guns because all protests are planted and orchestrated.”
Police baton-charged and tear-gassed local residents who were protesting against unscheduled load-shedding in various parts of Faisalabad division.
Hundreds of people, including industrial and power-loom workers, staged rallies from Sammundri Road, Novelty Bridge, Mandi Quarter, Korian Wala Bridge and Roshan Wala Bypass.
Sammundri Road remained blocked as protesters gathered to burn tyres and throw rocks. They chanted slogans against the government and demanded immediate restoration of electric supply.
A heavy contingent of police rushed to Sammundri Road, but the protesters refused to leave till the restoration of power supply.
They also damaged dozens of vehicles, traffic signals, signboards and forced shopkeepers to shutter their shops.
Hundreds of protesters blocked the Grand Trunk (GT) Road at two points in Mandra and Gujjar Khan areas for hours to protests power outages.
At Mandra, according to witnesses, commuters and emergency vehicles remained stranded in the traffic snarl for hours.
A similar blockade was witnessed in Gujjar Khan, where more than 300 protesters blocked the highway.
Meanwhile, some areas in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa as well as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas also felt the heat of prolonged power outages.
Hundreds of people in the Tajazai area of Lakki Marwat district staged a protest demonstration against unscheduled outages, blocking the Indus Highway for around 90 minutes.
The protesters made bonfires and chanted slogans against the government and Wapda officials.
Social activist Qasim Khan complained that residents of the area have been without electricity for the last five days and threatened to block the Peshawar-Karachi Road if power supply was not restored.
Tank district, Mohmand agency
Protesters in neighbouring Tank district criticised the government and Wapda officials for the 18-hour long power outages.
Similarly, activists of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf staged a protest rally in Ghalanai, the headquarters of Mohmand Agency.
Protesters chanted slogans against the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa governor as well as the political agent of Mohmand Agency and held them responsible for the crisis.
(WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY OUR COORESPONDENT IN LAKKI MARWAT AND AGENCIES)
Published in The Express Tribune, June 18th, 2012.
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