At least 11 people, including women, have died while trying to get free flour from government distribution outlets in Pakistan's Punjab province in recent days, authorities said.
The deaths were reported after several people flocked to the government distribution points after the cash-strapped Pakistani government introduced a free flour scheme for the poor, especially in Punjab province, to beat the skyrocketing inflation. The scheme aims to counter the rising popularity of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan.
Two elderly women and a man died on Tuesday, while 60 others suffered injuries in stampedes at free flour centres in four districts -- Sahiwal, Bahawalpur, Muzaffargarh and Okara -- of south Punjab.
The other districts where deaths were reported are Fasailabad, Jehanian and Multan.
Police have been blamed for causing mayhem at the centres by manhandling and baton-charging the citizens waiting in long queues to get free flour.
Security forces also resorted to a heavy-handed approach following the looting of free flour trucks in the Muzaffarghar and Rahim Yar Khan cities.
Punjab Caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi announced on Wednesday the opening of free flour centres at 6 am throughout the province to reduce overcrowding and inconvenience for citizens.
In a meeting held at the Chief Minister's Office on Wednesday, it was decided that provincial ministers and secretaries would perform duties in assigned districts for the next three days, visit flour centres and assess the situation themselves.
Expressing his dismay at the disorder and deaths at flour centres in different cities of Punjab, the chief minister directed officials to better guide and manage citizens for their convenience.
Former prime minister Khan has condemned the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government for its mismanagement at the free flour centres and held Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Punjab caretaker chief minister Naqvi responsible for the deaths of innocent people.
Khan said that the "government of thieves" has made people's lives so miserable that they are dying to collect a bag of flour.
Seeing the gross mismanagement at the free flour distribution points, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif started visiting the centres to ensure a smooth distribution.
The latest death comes days after the premier told officials concerned to extend the maximum assistance to the elderly, special persons, and women at the distribution centres.
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