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LAHORE: Enraged workers and supporters of recently-proscribed Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) on Sunday “brutally thrashed” at least 15 police officers and also allegedly kidnapped a deputy superintendent of police (DSP) after the police launched an operation around the ‘Markaz’ (head office) of the party near Yateem Khana Chowk to clear the road where the activists have been staging a protest since early this week.

Soon after the situation got tense and people started uploading videos and picture of the clash on social media, the Punjab police spokesperson took to the Twitter and confirmed alleged kidnapping of the DSP. Without naming the party, the spokesperson said: “Today in the early morning, miscreants attacked Nawankot Police Station where Rangers and police officers were trapped inside the police station and DSP Nawankot was kidnapped and taken in the Markaz.”

He claimed that the TLP workers also made away with an oil tanker containing 50,000 litres of petrol. “The miscreants were armed and attacked Rangers/Police with petrol bombs. Police and Rangers pushed them back and took back the possession of the police station. Police did not plan or conducted any operation against the mosque or the madrassa (seminary). The action, if any, was in self-defence and to protect public property,” he added.

According to a report shared by Lahore CCPO spokesperson Arif Ali Rana, at least 15 police officers were subjected to ‘brutal torture’ by TLP activists and they had been shifted to different government hospitals for treatment. To a query, Rana denied having knowledge of any death of TLP activities during the clash.

However, TLP spokesperson Shafiq Ameeni claimed that at least three activists were killed and several others injured during the clash. He said the clash started when police launched an operation to clear the area around Yateem Khana Chowk where workers of his party have been staging a protest.

In a video message, Shafiq said that they will bury those killed when the French ambassador exits the country and our agreement with the government is implemented. The TLP activists while wielding sticks and pelting stones at police and Rangers climbed atop the Orange Line Metro Train while speeches were being made through the area mosque to call people for support, the police said.

Still, supporters of outlawed TLP have been sharing videos on social media of what they said were clashes with police and hashtags supporting the group were trending in Pakistan on Sunday.

In a short video clip purportedly released by the TLP activists on social media, the Nawankot DSP, who identified himself as Muhammad Umer Farooq, can be seen appealing to the government to “honour its agreement” and resolve the matter through dialog.

The injured police official, assumedly under duress, said that an operation was being carried out to clear the area outside a police station when he was ‘captured’ by the ‘enraged’ crowd. With bandage around his head, the DSP narrated the events that led him being taken hostage, telling the government that it should ‘honour’ the agreement if one was reached between the two parties.

“Three people to my right have so far been martyred whereas scores are injured,” DSP Umer said in the video and requested the government to try and resolve the situation amicably. “We are all Muslims, and our common enemy is France who committed (alleged) blasphemy,” the DSP added. The roads leading to the TLP headquarters near Yateem Khana Chowk were blocked till filing of this report while the government temporarily halted the operation in this regard.

Meanwhile, Special Assistant to the Chief Minister on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan in a tweet said the attackers had kidnapped 12 police officials, including the DSP, and taken them to their Markaz (headquarters). Laced with heavy weapons, the CM’s aide said the enraged TLP activists attacked police and Rangers with petrol bombs and acid.

Commenting on the violence, newly-appointed Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the government “believes in negotiations but will not be blackmailed”. He said the operation in Lahore was launched after police and Rangers personnel were abducted. “The state will not be blackmailed by the banned armed group.”

On the other hand, the people in the provincial capital are experiencing complete suspension of mobile internet service for a couple of days. Talking to this reporter, Muhammad Bilal, a resident of Bund Road, said that he was unable to use mobile internet service for the five days.

“As my home is a few kilometres away from the TLP headquarters, we are not only experiencing complete suspension of mobile internet service for the last five days but also partial suspension of mobile signals,” he deplored and added that social media curbs wouldn’t help the government to change “sentiments” of the people towards the slogan of the TLP.

A student, Talha Yousaf, a resident of Model Town, also complained about the disappearance of mobile internet signals. “Like other people in my locality, I am also experiencing complete suspension of mobile internet service though my residence is far away from the protest location of the TLP activists,” he lamented. He said his final exams were near and suspension of the internet complicated the situation.

Last week, four policemen in Lahore alone were shot at and injured by the armed men of the TLP in the Shahpur Kanjran area while two police constables were shot at and injured in Faisalabad. Two video clips from Lahore in this regard showed policemen, Imran and Aslam, being rushed to a hospital with bullet wounds.

In other video clip, an on-duty policeman was seen calling for help to dispatch more force, saying they had come under armed attack by the protesters in Shahpur Kanjran. The police authorities were surprised over the use of weapons by the TLP activists and currently probing the matter to nab the alleged suppliers.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021