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LAHORE: The provincial capital turned into a battlefield on Wednesday as the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) activists clashed with law enforcement agencies (LEAs) over the removal of containers and barricades placed on entry and exit points of the city to restrict them from marching to the federal capital for ‘Azadi March’.

The situation remained tense throughout the day until the Lahore High Court (LHC) while hearing a petition ordered the authorities concerned to immediately release the activists after obtaining surety bonds from them.

The Punjab government, sensing the rising political temperature ahead of the Azadi March, early in the morning deployed a heavy contingent of the anti-riot force at various parts of the city, especially at Batti Chowk where the biggest clash between the LEAs and the activists took place.

At least 30 people, including women and children, were injured in the clashes, according to Edhi officials. Police resorted to teargas shelling and baton charged the protestors, who tried to forcefully remove the blockades and pelted stones at them besides damaging public property.

The protestors also manhandle PTV reporter Syed Muazam-ud-din and smashed DSLR camera of daily Dunya newspaper photographer Amjad Hussain. Meanwhile, the police started arresting the party leaders, who reached at the site in shape of caravans, but released them later after the LHC ordered the government to immediately release those arrested.

However, police officers and plain-cloth-men were seen damaging vehicles of the party leaders with batons. TV footages showed scuffles between supporters and police as they tried to arrest Hammad Azhar, Dr Yasmin Rashid and Andaleeb Abbas besides others.

Clashes between the police and protesters were also reported in other areas of Lahore including Islampura, Karim Park, Mohni Road and Badami Bagh.

In a video, a male police officer could be seen pushing Dr Yasmin and Andaleeb into a police mobile, but subsequently released them after uproar on social media. However, CCPO Bilal Siddique Kamyana claimed in a statement that both the senior PTI leaders had requested the police to let them sit in the police mobile as their vehicles had “developed a fault”.

Talking to the media at the confrontation site, Andaleeb Abbasi said police are continuingly firing teargas shells at the protestors and added that such foul tactics will not deter us from reaching the capital. Dr Rashid accused the police of smashing the windshield of her vehicle. “This government has lost its senses. I am an 80-year-old woman, who is a cancer survivor. Why are they threatened of me?” she added.

Hammad Azhar said he was hit by a teargas shell and received injuries on his head. He accused the police of firing the shells straight at the faces of protestors. “Thousands of people are behind me, heading for Islamabad, but the police decided to disperse the crowd through the use of force,” he added.

The police also arrested Jamshed Iqbal Cheema and moved him to an undisclosed location. In a brief video message, he said they were living in a country of 220 million people and all of them would exercise their “democratic rights”. He, however, was released later on.

Later in a tweet, the PTI official page said the shipping container placed in Shahadara had been removed and the caravan led by Hammad Azhar crossed Lahore. Later, he tweeted that Kala Shah Kaku, some 11km north of Ravi Bridge, was under “heavy shelling”. Hammad’s rally had reached Muridke while the caravan led by PTI Punjab President Shafqat Mahmood had been stuck to cross the Batti Chowk till filing of this report.

Earlier in the day, Deputy Inspector General of Police (Operations) Sohail Chaudhry while addressing a hurriedly-called presser at Police Lines Qila Gujjar Singh claimed that they recovered weapons from the houses and vehicles of PTI Lahore office bearers Zubair Niazi and Bajash Niazi.

He said they had received information some days ago about “illegal weapons” being brought to the city. “During the checking at blockades, we tried to stop five cars on the motorway. Later, in a raid at the homes of PTI Lahore office bearers Zubair Niazi and Bajash Niazi, the weapons were recovered,” he added.

The senior police officer said both the leaders have been taken into custody and the police would ensure that the march was held peacefully. He added that six 223 bore guns, 13 SMG rifles, three pistols, 10 kopay, 96 magazines of SMG rifles and 223 bore guns, 26 magazines of pistols, 50 boxes of bullets and six bigger packs of bullets were recovered from the suspects.

Later, Punjab government spokesperson Ataullah Tarar in a media briefing also claimed that a large quantity of weapons was found from the homes of the two PTI workers. “It is now clear this isn’t a peaceful march. These people want chaos and anarchy to spread in the country,” he added

He also showed the photographs of the modern weapons on display that Maryam Nawaz posted on Twitter account, and listed what was found. “What was this weaponry gathered for? We have intelligence reports. Look at these weapons. They want to hide there (in Peshawar), and yet they’re asking for others’ children to risk their lives and march,” Tarar noted.

However, Zubair Niazi in a video message rubbished the allegations saying this was “fake news” being peddled by the Punjab government, adding that police had not raided his house or checked his vehicles.

“This is the same Maryam who used to say she had no property in London. And DIG sahib, don’t indulge into this fake news on their (PML-N’s) orders,” he requested and added: “Since 8:30am, I am out of my house with my Tehreekis... This is baseless news. No raid was conducted at my house, neither were my cars checked. I haven’t even met the police yet.”

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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