KARACHI: Security personnel on Tuesday clashed with marchers protesting against government plans to privatise the ailing national airline, in a skirmish that a hospital official said killed at least two protesters and injured eight.
Protesters said paramilitary forces fired after a confrontation as security forces tried to block the strikers nearing the airport in the southern economic hub of Karachi.
But a spokesperson for the paramilitary Rangers force and a senior police officer denied that any of their members had fired.
The violence came as hundreds of airline employees held the latest of a months-long series of protests against the plans to privatise Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).
Police used water cannons and teargas to keep the crowd from approaching the city’s Jinnah International Airport before shots were fired.
“They didn’t tell us they would be using force,” Suhail Baluch, chairman of PIA’s Joint Action Committee, a grouping of unions, said of the firings. “Firing straight at unarmed people is unacceptable.”
One man with a gunshot wound died during treatment while the body of another had been brought for autopsy, Kaleem Shaikh, an officer of the city’s Jinnah Hospital, told Reuters, adding that the men were PIA employees at the protest. Eight other injured protesters had also been admitted for treatment, he said.
Senior police officer Kamran Fazal told reporters at the scene that police did not open fire. Police had gathered bullet casings from the scene to determine the weapons used, he said.
Despite the strike in Karachi and at PIA offices across country, flights suffered no major disruption on Tuesday.
Once a source of pride for Pakistan, flights of the loss-making carrier are now frequently cancelled and many of its aircraft have been cannibalised to keep others flying.
PIA, one of the world’s leading airlines until the 1970s, now suffers from frequent cancellations and delays and has been involved in numerous controversies over the years, including the jailing of a drunk pilot in Britain in 2013.
The PIA employees’ union had announced a day earlier its plans to shut down the airline’s flights after weeks of token strikes against government proposals to complete the partial sale of the carrier by July. The move follows years of crushing losses and mismanagement that have battered the airline’s reputation.
The government has sought to allay fears the move could bring mass layoffs, but sporadic protests have continued.
“Saving PIA means saving the country,” said Ali Hussain, one of the striking employees. “Tomorrow they will sell Pakistan.”
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday enacted legislation that effectively restricts the airline’s employees from striking for six months, the government said in a statement. Those convicted of infringements face prison terms of up to a year, and an unspecified fine.
“Let me make clear that those who continue the strike will be treated as enemies of PIA and Pakistan and they will end up losing their jobs,” Federal Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid said on Monday.
CAA requests Air Blue to commence special flights
As the flights schedule has been disrupted across the country, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has requested private airlines to arrange special flights.
According to the CAA spokesperson, private airline Air Blue will arrange special flights in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad.
PIA chairman resigns
PIA chairman Nasir Jaffer has submitted his resignation to the prime minister.
“Cannot remain to be the chairman [of PIA] after today’s incident,” Express News quoted him as saying.
Offices to remain closed until arrest of culprits
Meanwhile, the PIA Joint Action Committee has decided to keep flight operations halted and offices closed until the arrest of culprits behind the killing of two employees.
According to Express News, committee leader Sohail Baloch demanded Rangers to conduct an impartial inquiry of the incident, saying it was necessary to restore confidence of masses in the law enforcement agency.
Meanwhile, Palpa also announced to join forces with the committee, saying pilots will also take part in the strike.
PM threatens PIA workers with dismissal from job, imprisonment
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has threatened PIA workers that they will lose their jobs and may face up to one year in prison if they fail to show up to work with immediate effect, our correspondent Abdul Manan reports.
Employees performing their duties and are not part of the protests will be rewarded by the government, the prime minister added.
Sindh govt announces Rs2m for relatives of deceased PIA workers
Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah on Tuesday announced a compensation of Rs2 million for the families of each of the deceased PIA workers, Express News reports.
PALPA joins strike call of PIA unions
The Pakistan Airlines Pilots Association (Palpa) has formally announced joining the strike call of the airline unions, our correspondent Saad Hasan reports.
All the pilots of the association have been instructed not to proceed to airport after death of employees in a recent protest, Palpa said on Tuesday.
Rangers did not open fire at PIA workers: spokesperson
Rangers did not open fire at protesting PIA workers at Jinnah International Airport, a spokesperson of the paramilitary forces claimed on Tuesday.
The Rangers’ spokesperson refuted the media reports which suggested the firing was carried out by the paramilitary forces after the airlines’ workers clashed with them.
Earlier, DIG East Police had also denied reports of firing by policemen.
JAC leaders, several protesters arrested: sources
Several protesting PIA workers, along with a number of leaders of the Joint Action Committee (JAC), a grouping of unions, were rounded up on Tuesday after protesting employees of the national carrier clashed with the security forces at the Karachi airport, Express News reports quoting sources.
Two dead, several injured in clashes at Karachi airport
Two PIA employees were shot dead on Tuesday and several more were wounded after clashes broke out between law enforcement agencies and workers, hospital officials say.
A spokesperson at the Agha Khan hospital said one of the protesters, identified as Inayat Raza, had died of a gunshot wound. “The PIA employee was brought dead at our emergency department and our team attempted to revive him for 20 minutes,” the spokesperson says.
Nadeem Jaffer, a colleague and friend of Raza, has confirmed his death at the hospital.
Meanwhile, Dr Seemi Jamali, a spokesperson for the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center, tells AFP the hospital had received a total of 10 wounded, one of whom later died.
“Four people with gunshot wounds were brought to the hospital, one succumbed to his injuries while the other three are in stable condition,” she says.
Six others, among them journalists who had been covering the protest, were treated for other injuries.
“They didn’t tell us they would be using force,” Suhail Baluch, chairman of the JAC said of the firings. “Firing straight at unarmed people is unacceptable.”
The government has sought to allay fears the move could bring mass layoffs, but sporadic protests have continued. “Saving PIA means saving the country,” said Ali Hussain, one of the striking employees. “Tomorrow they will sell Pakistan.”
Police to probe firing at PIA workers: DIG East
The Deputy Inspector General (DIG) East Police has told media that investigations will be carried out in the firing incident at the Karachi airport which injured at several PIA workers.
Kamran Fazal, the police chief of the city’s eastern district said: “The situation escalated when a couple of gunshots were fired. My officers told me that they might be fired from the crowd. “We are searching for the empty shells and only then can we establish who opened fire.”
The police officer, however, refused to disclose the total number of employees and the JAC leaders who have been rounded up by the security forces.
Political parties condemn use of force against PIA workers
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)’s MNA and Leader of the Opposition in National Assembly, Syed Khursheed Shah, and MQM leader Khawaja Izharul Hasan have condemned the use of force against protesting PIA workers in Karachi, Express News reports.
“Everyone has a right to express their opinion. We stand in support to the media personnel who were injured during the coverage of the protest at the Karachi airport. This is a clear violation of the Constitution and the law of the land,” MQM leader Muhammad Hussain said while addressing a group of journalists outside Sindh Assembly building.
Meanwhile, PPP Senator Saeed Ghani has demanded registration of an FIR against Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Information Minister Pervez Rashid for firing at protesters.
Rangers beat up media men covering protest
Rangers personnel beat up several media persons covering the protest of the PIA workers against the privatisation of the national carrier.
Saad Hasan, business reporter of The Express Tribune, was inured during the clash.
Meanwhile, several other media men, including two Express News employees, were also, our correspondent Faraz Khan reports.
Express News cameraman Agha Rafiq, technician Saadat, ARY News cameramen Hanif and Danish, Dawn News cameraman Shafiq Dilshad, Waqt News cameramen Amjad Iqbal and Javeed KK also received wounds while performing their journalistic duties at the Karachi airport.
Three critically injured
At least three PIA workers have been critically injured as security forces resort to firing to disperse the protesting workers in Karachi.
Security forces fired at the airline workers as they marched towards the Karachi airport from PIA’s head office in an attempt to block the Jinnah International Airport.
PIA flights operating as per schedule
The PIA flights are operating from all airports of the country as per schedule.
PIA flights PK-4232 from Islamabad to Abu Dhabi, PK-584 from Islamabad to Dera Ghazi Khan and PK-300 from Karachi to Islamabad and PK-755 from Islamabad to Riyadh have left for their destinations, Radio Pakistan quoted a PIA spokesperson as saying.
Protesting employees continue to march towards terminal
Despite heavy shelling, the protesting workers continued to march towards the terminal and some even managed to enter the cargo office.
Police use tear gas, water cannon to disperse protesters
Police have resorted to tear gas shelling and the use of water cannon to disperse the protesting PIA workers.
Heavy contingent of security forces deputed at Karachi airport
Meanwhile, a heavy contingent of security forces has been deputed at the Jinnah International Airport terminal to deter the employees from entering the airport’s premises.