ISLAMABAD / RAWALPINDI: Chaotic scenes were witnessed in twin cities on Monday when supporters of Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), in their exuberance to receive the firebrand cleric Dr Tahirul Qadri, stormed into the red zone after breaking through the security cordon put in place on roads leading the Benazir International Airport.
Clashes between police and PAT workers started as early as 3:30am on Monday morning when PAT workers allegedly started removing barriers placed near Koral Chowk. The barriers were placed to stop Qadri supporters from reaching Islamabad airport.
Police resorted to baton charge and tear gas shelling to disperse the crowd. Having already negotiated a police assault in Lahore last week, resolute PAT workers pushed on unfazed and managed to break the security cordon.
The ensuing clashes left at least 73 people injured, including eight police personnel. 30 others were injured in the garrison city of Rawalpindi in separate clashes.
During the clash at the airport, six policemen were stranded among PAT workers and were beaten severely. Two of them were shifted to the hospital in a PAT commandeered ambulance in an unconscious condition.
According to hospitals’ and Rescue 1122 data, a total of 47 injured were brought to Allied hospitals in Rawalpindi, 37 of them were policemen while 10 were protesters.
The incident had also added to the anger of his supporters, who had gathered from across in the capital to receive their leader. They vigorously waved party flags and chanted slogans hailing the resolve and courage of Qadri.
“We have to receive our leader at all cost no matter what,” said Akhtar Ali, a PAT worker explained to The Express Tribune.
Entry to airport barred
The sticks-brandishing PAT supporters reached the main gate of airport after pushing back the police personnel. However, Rangers personnel did not allow them to enter the airport premises.
Later on Pakistan Muslim League chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain also arrived along with his supporters and a proscribed TV anchor. After two hours of negotiation with the airport security officials, the anchor was allowed to enter the airport’s lounge.
Besides playing hide and seek with police, different groups of PAT workers were discussing about future strategy of their leader.
One of the top leader of the party was seen convincing the workers that, “Hazrat (Qadri) is not showing up deliberately and he is more concern about the security of his sons and daughters (party workers) than his own life.”
Passengers caught in mayhem
A large number of passengers were stranded at the airport, suffering side effects of the clash.
The teargas used by police affected passengers who had scant access to water to wash their faces. It was especially difficult for the children to breath in the thick smog of teargas. Some even fainted.
An angry and frustrated passenger shouted at the protesters that why don’t they leave these leaders who are not sincere with them and put regular people in trouble.
“No it is the government and not our leader. We will not leave him,” came an angry retort from a PAT worker.
The police then resumed shelling and an angry voice from the waiting lounge boomed we earn foreign exchange for you and you are treating us this way. You are humiliating us.
Passengers faced further difficult as a shuttle service announced by the district and airport administrations on Sunday did not resume operations on Monday. With the shuttle service absent, passengers were forced to walk on foot to the airport. Women and children, who were intending to leave for abroad, had to wait for hours to enter the airport.