The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lathis rain before Lahore run

Chandigarh, Feb. 12: Three thousand cricket fans waiting to cross the border to go to Lahore for the one-dayer tomorrow ended up being chased and beaten up by security personnel at Wagah this morning.

Only one immigration counter manned by a lone official was open at the border checkpost at Attari where the cricket fans with valid visas had started gathering since last evening.

Afraid that they would not be cleared in time, the fans waiting at the outer gate tried to jump over and enter the customs and immigration building, prompting a lathicharge by Punjab police and Border Security Force jawans. Even children were not spared.

In retaliation, the fans pelted stones at the immigration building ' about a kilometre from the Radcliff Line dividing the two nations ' damaging some windowpanes.

Three persons were injured in the lathicharge and taken to hospital, witnesses said. At least for one, with a fractured leg, the trip to Lahore ended before it could begin, they added. But police denied anyone was hurt.

“The provocation followed information from those inside the customs and immigration building, located near the outer gate, that only one counter was open and it would take days for the authorities to clear the rush. The news spread like wildfire and everyone rushed towards the gate at once. It is a miracle that no one slipped and got crushed in the chaos,” said a furious Munish Bayala, an eyewitness.

Both the immigration department and the Wagah outpost gates are opened around 10 am every day to allow people to cross over from either side. The gates close at 4 pm.

With all the counters open, about 500 people can pass through Wagah ' the only land route open between the two countries where people can walk across to either side ' in a day.

“There is no infrastructure, not even bathrooms. There is no proper restaurant, only a canteen serving chips, coffee and cold drinks. Once inside the outer gate, people have nowhere to go,” a BSF officer at the outpost said.

“Neither we nor the customs authorities can handle the kind of rush that was witnessed today,” he added, admitting that the lathicharge could have been avoided had arrangements been made like that when the Guru Granth Sahib was carried in a golden palanquin to Nankana Sahib a couple of months ago. Then, apart from the counters inside the immigration building, a row of desks had been set up at the border to handle the rush.

Despite advance knowledge that the Pakistani high commission in New Delhi had granted visas to over 4,000 fans for the Lahore match, only one immigration counter was opened as usual today.

After the violence, extra counters were opened.

“We will clear everyone by the evening. We will work overtime. Everyone with valid papers will be allowed to cross over to Pakistan. We have also informed our Pakistani counterparts across the gate. They have accepted our request to keep their gate open till all the fans are cleared by us,” an immigration official said.

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