Protesters run as police fire tear gas during clashes near the Prime Minister’s residence in Islamabad on Saturday. (AP)
Islamabad, Aug. 30: One woman was killed in police firing and several protesters injured tonight after thousands of demonstrators armed with lathis broke through security cordons and marched towards Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s residence.
Police opened fire, used tear gas and lathicharged the protesters led by Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri. Their followers, who had laid seige to the National Assembly and Supreme Court since August 14, used wire cutters to break through barbed-wire barricades.
Turmoil prevailed in the heart of Islamabad after a number of demonstrators refused to disperse from the protest site. As tension mounted, Sharif left for Lahore. A late night government announcement ruled out the Prime Minister’s resignation.
Shouting slogans against Sharif and his government, the protesters marched from the National Assembly to the Prime Minister’s residence shortly after Khan, chief of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Qadri, who heads the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), shifted the protest venue.
Before the protesters set off on their march, the interior ministry said soldiers would be deployed to stop the demonstrators. Both Khan and Qadri have been demanding Sharif’s ouster with Khan alleging that last year’s general elections were rigged. “I will lead the march to the PM House. All my supporters should follow me,” he said.
Khan’s announcement came soon after a similar decision was taken by Qadri. Khan asked his supporters to remain peaceful.
The clashes erupted after over 20,000 policemen and paramilitary rangers deployed in the Red Zone to safeguard sensitive buildings started firing tear gas shells on protestors when they tried to enter cabinet division building and presidency. Baton wielding supporters of Qadri also attacked the police which prompted law enforcement personnel to respond with severe baton charging.
Hundreds of women and children who were part of Qadri's procession were the worst affected as many of them fainted because of intense tear gas shelling. According to local police officials, more than 50 people including policemen were injured in the violence.
Private TV channels showed live footage from the site which literally turned into battlefield with thick cloud of smoke engulfing the area near th parliament house.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told reporters a group of people wanted to capture important buildings in the Red Zone which could not be tolerated.
Imran Khan went inside his luxurious shipping container and Qadri took refuge in his bullet proof vehicle as the violence broke out.
Several rounds of talks by the the government with Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Qadri's Pakistan Awami Tehreek failed to yield any result as the two parties stuck to their position describing Nawaz Sharif's resignation as the “first and foremost” condition for success of any dialogue.
Army chief General Raheel Sharif also intervened on government's requested and met Khan and Qadri but they did not budge an inch from their position. Qadri also repeatedly demanded arrest of Nawaz Sharif and his younger brother and chief minister Punjab province Shahbaz Sharif for their alleged involvement in the killing of at least 10 PAT workers during clashes with police on June 17 in Lahore.
On government's order, a First Information Report (FIR) on PAT's application nominating 21 people including Sharif brothers also failed to pacify Qadri.
Police said more than 50 protestors were arrested for breaking the law.