ABBOTTABAD: Seven people were killed and over 100 sustained injuries on Monday when police used force to break up a protest here against the renaming of NWFP as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
The peaceful headquarters of Hazara division turned into a battlefield when the police used batons and fired teargas shells to disperse protesters who fought back with sticks and stones in the streets. The angry mobs blocked roads with burning tyres, set two police vehicles on fire and attacked a couple of police stations. The police fired bullets to disperse protesters.
A large contingent of police from Peshawar was called in to maintain the law and order situation The protesters also torched an Edhi ambulance, besides the building of the Cantonment Police Station. They besieged and pelted the Mirpur Police Post with stones. As a result, three policemen sustained injuries. The enraged protesters also ransacked the office of the Khaksar Movement.
The injured include college students, aged people and labourers. The protesters hung the uniforms of the fleeing policemen in the main square of the city. They had reportedly got hold of the policemen, beat them and stripped them.
Protests again broke out in Abbottabad in the evening as the people demonstrated against the killings of protestors. People gathered at the Fawara Chowk and other places to block roads and vent their anger. Protests were also held in Mansehra, Haripur, Garhi Habibullah and other places as news of the killings of seven protestors reached there. In Garhi Habibullah, the protestors blocked Kashmir Road for hours.
There were reports that both government and private educational institutions in Abbottabad and other cities and towns will remain closed today (Tuesday) due to the uncertain situation. This created problems for male and female students living in colleges and schools in Hazara, particularly in Abbottabad.
Tension had risen in Abbottabad as the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) local chapter had announced that it would hold a convention at the Fawara Chowk on Monday apparently to counter the anti-Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa campaign launched by the Action Committee for Hazara province. The latter is headed by a former district nazim of Abbottabad, Sardar Haider Zaman Khan, and includes political leaders mostly from the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q). The district administration imposed Section 144 fearing a clash between the rival groups. The protesters, however, defied the ban and came on roads to voice their aversion to the new name of the NWFP.
Earlier on Monday, a rally led by Sardar Haider Zaman was taken out. At the Fawara Chowk, the law enforcement agencies started baton-charge and shelling against the protesters which triggered violent protests.
The protesters blocked the Karakoram Highway and Murree Road, and chanted slogan against the renaming of NWFP as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. They also demanded a separate Hazara province.
Two of the dead were identified as Zahid, son of Farooq, and Waqas, son of Sajawal. Two minors were also among the victims but their names could not be ascertained. Relatives of some of the dead took the bodies of their near and dear ones without autopsy from the hospitals.
Dr Azhar Jadoon, a leader of the protest movement and its spokesman, said seven protestors were killed and over 100 injured due to police firing. He said six of the injured were in critical condition at the hospital. He blamed the PML-N for creating circumstances that led to the crisis by making compromise with the ANP to rename the province as Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa. He alleged that Nawaz Sharif made a deal with the ANP over the renaming to pave the way for becoming prime minister for the third time by ensuring that the required constitutional amendment got through the parliament.
Among the injured were Javed, Kabir, Sarfraz, Salim, Younas, Hamid, Bashir, Nisar, Faizan, Ejaz, Zafar Iqbal, Saeed Arshad, Waqas, Zafar, Abid, Abdul Hakim, Gustasap, Nadeem, Rizwan, Nasim, Kamil, Aqib, Shah Nawaz, Taimur Nasir, Ghulam Hussain, Farooq, Manzoor, Irshad, Ali Asghar, Abdul Shakoor, Qaiser and Mehtab. They were admitted to the Ayub Medical Complex and District Headquarters Hospital in Abbottabad.
Hospital sources said autopsy of Waqas and Zahid was carried out while the remaining bodies were taken away by their relatives. Meanwhile, members of the District Bar Association led by Tahir Faraz Abbasi took out a protest rally against the renaming of the province and what they said was state-terrorism against the innocent people. They chanted against the provincial government and police.
Action Committee for Hazara Province chairman Sardar Haider Zaman along with other members Mushtaq Ahmed Ghani, Naseer Khan and Dr Azhar announced a three-day mourning against the killing of seven persons in the protest.
Online adds: In a letter to Chief Minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti, Nawaz Sharif strongly denounced the police firing at protesters in Abbottabad. He deplored casualties in the incident and said efforts should be made to avert a mob’s rage into a full fledge clash. “The chief minister should play a proactive role to normalise the situation and cool down sentiments of the people,” Nawaz Sharif said in the letter.
He also demanded action against police officials involved in the opening of indiscriminate firing on the people, adding those behind the incident be unmasked without any delay. He said peaceful protest was the right of every citizen, which should be tackled deftly, and not through bullet. “I had made loud and clear that changing the nomenclature of the province is a sensitive and complex matter and warned against bonding it with 18th Amendment,” he said, adding he repeatedly appealed for the amicable solution to the matter by taking all the stakeholders into confidence. He said had the decision not been made recklessly, the situation today would have been different and averted.
He said responsibility also rested with the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms to play its role in calming down the sentiments of masses. Meanwhile, expressing concerns over volatile situation in Hazara over the renaming of NWFP, the PML-N and the ANP blamed the PML-Q for instigating the situation just for its political objectives.
Talking to a private TV channel, PML-N leader Iqbal Zafar Jhagra said the PML-Q was misleading the people of Hazara and indulged in politics based on political scoring. He said the ANP government could not ignore sentiments of the people of Hazara. He urged the provincial government to tackle the situation tactfully. The PML-N leader also requested the PML-Q to take the situation seriously.
ANP leader Bushra Gohar urged the PML-Q leadership to show responsibility and maturity as the name was changed after developing consensus. She said some elements in the PML-Q were disturbing the situation.
However, PML-Q leader Marvi Memon strongly rejected allegations raised by the PML-N and the ANP. She held the ANP responsible for the situation. The PML-Q leader said the provincial government ignored the feelings of people, adding her party was not involved in worsening the situation. She said the issue was mishandled as police used the force against protestors.