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    Posted June 23, 2014 by
    Lahore, Pakistan

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    Airport out of bounds, twin cities cut off from rest of country

    RAWALPINDI/ISLAMABAD: All roads leading to Benazir Bhutto International Airport were sealed off on Sunday night as the twin cities braced for the arrival of Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief Dr Tahirul Qadri.

    Hundreds of policemen, metal containers, concrete blocks and barbed wire lined the roads of Rawalpindi as the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) moved to ensure that anti-government protesters do not enter the federal capital.

    Clashes between PAT workers and security personnel erupted late on Sunday night in Tench Bhatta and Koral Chowk. Police pushed back the supporters of Tahirul Qadri with batons and used force to disperse them. Police vans later took to the streets to round up ‘miscreants’ who attempted to violate Section 144.

    Scores of PAT workers were picked up on Sunday after negotiations between PAT leaders, the district administration and police collapsed. A 10-member delegation led by PAT Rawalpindi President Malik Mohammad Afzal was invited to discuss a change in venue for the party’s rally. When the government failed to sway the other side, they detained the PAT men, huddled them into Armoured Personnel Carriers and shifted them to an unknown location.

    PAT information secretary Raja Sajid Sohail Abbasi, central deputy secretary general Sardar Mansoor Khan, Anar Khan Gondal, Mohammad Afzal, senior vice president Tariq Mehmood, Mohammad Hanif Mustafvi and Nazim-i-Aala Ahmed Nawaz Anjum were among those arrested.

    The PAT men were detained under Section 3 of the Maintenance of Public Order, which deals with ‘protective custody’. A senior district administration official told Dawn the men would remain in custody for 15 days.

    Following the decision not to allow the PAT rally, police launched a manhunt for PAT workers in Rawalpindi, Attock, Jhelum and Chakwal and rounded up more than 60 people.

    At the time of going to press, police raids continued around the city. Police sources told Dawn that at least 25 PAT leaders and workers had been arrested in Rawalpindi.

    A 15-bus convoy of PAT supporters from Bhakkar was stopped at Pirwadhai Mor.

    Murree Road, the main artery linking the garrison city with the capital, was blocked with containers at Chandni Chowk and a heavy police contingent was deployed around the PAT office there.

    The Rawalpindi district administration also imposed Section 144 in the city, prohibiting public gatherings, rallies and pillion riding across the city until noon on Tuesday.Benazir Bhutto International Airport was also sealed on Sunday and passengers were only allowed to proceed to the airport on foot after producing valid air tickets and passports.

    In addition, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority announced on Sunday night that mobile services around the airport area would be suspended from 3am to 12 noon on Monday.

    A PTA spokesperson said the government was suspending cellular services “to protect lives”, as large gatherings of people were susceptible to terrorist attack and deactivating cell phone services lessened the chances of someone detonating an IED via remote control.

    Additional personnel from the Airport Security Force have been deployed at the airport and every one entering the premises is being thoroughly checked with explosive detectors and their baggage scanned minutely.

    On the orders of the Punjab chief minister, Rawalpindi police have also been directed to use rubber bullets and anti-riot equipment to deal with PAT protesters on Monday. But not all policemen have been issued this specialised ammunition.

    Police officers deployed around the twin cities have also been asked by the city police officer to remain calm and “not become Gullu Butt”.

    “Rubber bullets shall be fired only when mob goes out of control and becomes violent,” the Punjab inspector general said in a letter to all officials in the twin cities.

    “In case of resistance, the use of force shall be made with due caution and as per provision of the law, starting by warning the crowd to disperse and thereafter, shelling with tear gas,” the IGP said.

    But police officials Dawn spoke to said that it was unusual that Dr Qadri had decided to land at Islamabad airport and then proceed to Lahore. “If he really wanted to go to Lahore, he should have flown straight there,” they said.

    “It is possible that PAT workers may try to enter Islamabad,” sources said. But in anticipation of such a move, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar has ordered the capital sealed off. All entry and exit points are manned by large contingents of police and the Red Zone has been completely cordoned off with large metal containers.

    “There is no ban on political activities but those who want to derail democracy will be dealt as per law,” he said.

    “We cannot forget that Dr Qadri is unpredictable. The last time he was here in January 2013, he promised that he would stay at the Saudi Pak Tower and not march towards D-Chowk. But hours after reaching the venue, Dr Qadri ordered his followers to move the stage to D-Chowk,” he said.

    Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Mohammad Ali Nekokara told Dawn that the Section 144 was already in force in the capital.

    “We have credible security threats to the federal capital, but special arrangements are being made to ensure that Section 144 is not violated. No mobs will be allowed to enter the city,” he said.

    Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, president of the Awami Muslim League, told a press conference on Sunday that he and his party workers would receive Dr Qadri at the airport.

    If any thing were to happen to Dr Qadri, the government would be responsible, the AML chief said, adding that he had asked Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan to join hands with Dr Qadri to save the people of this country.

    Published in Dawn, June 23rd, 2014
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