By: Tariq Naqash/
Muzaffarabad, Mar 21: A complete shutter down strike was observed here on Thursday, amid violent clashes between the police and the residents which left dozens of people, including police personnel, wounded.
During the clashes, protestors resorted to stone pelting while the police retaliated with aerial firing, teargas shelling and baton charge.
The injured person included a deputy superintendent of police, witnesses and official sources said.
Police said they had taken 14 people into custody but protestors alleged that the actual figure was higher than that. Apart from some traders, the detainees included activists of opposition Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N) which had thrown its weight behind the strike call, given by Markazi Anjuman e Taajran, an alliance of traders’ organisations.
According to Shaukat Nawaz Mir, chairman of the alliance, the strike call was given by them at the end of their tether to protest against “merciless” load shedding by Wapda and to demand AJK’s exemption from it.
An official team, comprising two ministers and politically appointed heads of three civic bodies, had tried, half-heartedly, to persuade the traders to call off their strike and although some government backed trader leaders had disassociated themselves from it, the town was completely shut on Thursday.
Even the street vendors were away and traffic was thin.
Traders and other citizens poured on to the Bank Road from where they started their march through the main thoroughfare that runs through Chattar area, which is home to almost all important official buildings. The traders had set out a feeler that they would stage a sit-in in front of the Legislative Assembly.
However, when their procession reached near Sathra, hardly 700 yards ahead of Bank Road, it was stopped by heavy police contingents.
Witnesses and official sources said that the demonstration leaders held negotiations with the police on the spot during which they presented some of their demands for immediate acceptance.
However, while the outcome was being awaited, some miscreants pelted stones on the police who retaliated violently. DSP City Zafar Ali Awan was injured at the same place after receiving a bullet wound in his ankle.
In a press note, issued later, Deputy Commissioner Ansar Yaqoob claimed that Awan and three police personnel were injured by firing from the mob. However, witnesses told reporters that Awan was injured when a bullet shot by the police to disperse the mob hit him accidentally.
A police official claimed that around 20 policemen were wounded by stone pelting.
Though the exact figure of injuries on the other side was not available but they were not less than 20 as police had resorted to extensive use of batons and tear gas shelling, according to witnesses.
“I have rarely seen such an intense shelling by the police,” remarked Tariq Mir, a trader cum political activist at the bank road. The clashes also left a number of motorbikes and a few private vehicles damaged. Angry protestors torched a police van in Upper Adda but the police personnel doused it with water instantly, before it could be gutted to ashes.
In a statement, an unnamed official spokesman stated that load shedding was not a local but a national issue and the government had been holding talks with the concerned authorities to reduce its duration.
The spokesman claimed that talks between the traders and officials on the issue of load shedding had almost succeeded but some “anti-government elements” instigated the traders and citizens to go ahead with the strike and thus create law and order problem.
However, PML-N MLA from Muzaffarabad city Barrister Iftikhar Gillani said that the government had mishandled the issue due to which so many people had been injured.
“According to my information the government had directed the administration to rough up the protestors on any pretext,” he claimed.