Ashura violence: Protest rallies end peacefully in twin cities

Separate rallies at Raja Bazaar and Lal Masjid disturb civic life.

Residents of most parts of Rawalpindi and Islamabad had to suffer as most major roads were blocked off owing to the protests. PHOTO: ZAFAR ASLAM/EXPRESS, ONLINE


Life in the twin cities was disturbed on Friday as several hundred gathered to protest last week’s Ashura incident in Rawalpindi, albeit no incident of violence was reported.

Activists and supporters of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) converged from the Punjab at the Raja Bazaar seminary to listen to their chief Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi.

“We want all religious processions to be confined within the limits of their respective places of worship,” said Ludhianvi. He assured the government that his followers would not take the law in their hands and remain peaceful.

The protest rallies were organised on the call of Wafaqul Madaris Al-Arabia. Its chief, Maulana Saleemullah Khan in his statement urged the government for speedy investigations into the incident and asked it to share facts with the public.

Asking participants to remain calm and abstain from provocative slogans, Ludhianvi demanded the chief minister, law minister and federal interior minister to ban mourning processions.

Despite the imposition of section 144 in the city, rallies from Misrial Road and Tench Bhatta reached Raja Bazaar for Friday prayers. In a brief incident witnessed at ground zero, the police struggled to contain a group of youngsters who tried to enter the seminary and used tear gas to disperse them. Another clash-like situation developed near a worship place in Rawalpindi where the police intervened to avert further violence.

The garrison city remained in the grip of uncertainty as all entrance and exit routes were blocked amid a heavy deployment of law enforcement officials. Businesses remained closed throughout the city and all major roads were practically deserted.

All link roads around Raja Bazaar and Fawara Chowk, including Kohati Bazaar, Gawalmandi, Liaquat Road, College Road and Committee Chowk were sealed with barriers. Only three entry points for protesters were set up at Namak Mandi, Hamilton Road and Purana Qila.

Rally, security arrangements in capital

ASWJ Deputy Secretary General Maulana Masoodur Rehman Usmani said the Rawalpindi incident that left 11 people dead and several injured could have been avoided had the administration acted responsibly.

He was addressing the protest rally that started from Lal Masjd after Friday prayers and culminated at the National Press Club from where the participants dispersed peacefully.

Speakers criticised the provincial government for its failure to control the situation on Ashura. “It’s time the government arrest the people responsible for the tragedy,” demanded Usmani. Carrying banners inscribed with slogans against the provincial government and the local administration, hundreds of people including Lal Masjid seminary students participated in the rally.

Some of the protesters, who spoke to The Express Tribune, demanded that the government formulate a long-term strategy to control sectarian strife.

“We are here to record our protest against the tragic incident and this is the best way,’” said Hafiz Mehmood, a student of Lal Masjid seminary.

The Islamabad administration had sealed the Red Zone and blocked D-Chowk by placing containers on roads. The protesters were not allowed to enter Jinnah Avenue while police was also deployed outside two main imambarghas to avert a showdown. Pakistan Rangers had also been put on standby to assist the police. A senior police officer told The Express Tribune that the police allowed the rally after religious leaders assured the administration that they would remain peaceful.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 23rd, 2013.


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