In early morning statement, Interior minister claims 11 abducted policemen have been released and remaining issues are under discussion
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed early on Monday morning announced that supporters of the banned Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) had released 11 police officials that had been taken hostage by them in Lahore after discussions with representatives of the Punjab government.
“Talks have begun with the banned TLP and hopefully issues will be resolved with them,” he said in a video statement released on social media. He said that the “second round” of talks would commence after sehri, adding that the protesters had withdrawn to the interior of the Masjid Rehmatulil Alameen and ended a road blockade. He claimed that of 192 blocked roads nationwide, 191 had been cleared while one was still blocked. “This will hopefully also be cleared soon,” he said, adding that police had been withdrawn from the area.
A senior police official in Lahore claimed that 16 police and security officials had been taken hostage by the TLP workers on Sunday morning, adding that all had been released on Monday after dialogue. He claimed that 36 policemen had been injured in the riots, one of them critically.
During a press conference on Sunday, Special Assistant to the Punjab Chief Minister on Information Firdous Ashiq Awan had alleged that “miscreants” armed with petrol bombs had targeted the Nawankot Police Station, taking 12 policemen hostage and injuring six others. She claimed police and Rangers had been forced to respond to the aggression after being virtually trapped inside the police station. She also alleged that the rioters had stolen an oil tanker carrying 50,000 liters of petrol.
A case has been registered against the rioters under the Anti-Terrorism Act, she added.
Awan’s statement was echoed by a spokesperson for the Lahore police, who said police and Rangers had been deployed at sensitive areas across the city to ensure security.
TLP protesters, meanwhile, claimed that three of their workers had been killed in the clashes with police, and several others injured. A spokesperson for the banned group differed from the police narrative, alleging that they had retaliated to security forces launching an operation to clear them from Lahore’s Yateem Khana Chowk. He warned that the deceased would not be buried until the government accepted their demands, as videos of the bodies circulated on social media because the government had banned broadcast media from covering the riots.
TLP social media accounts also shared a video of a senior official of Punjab police who had been allegedly abducted by its workers. The clearly injured official, ostensibly under duress, said the police had launched an operation to clear the area outside a police station. He said he had been “captured” by the crowd, adding that three people had been killed and several others injured. He urged the government to resolve the situation through dialogue.
Reacting to the violence, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, in a posting on Twitter, said the government “believes in negotiations but will not be blackmailed.”
Late on Sunday night, religious scholars and rightwing parties announced they would stage a nationwide strike on Monday against the government’s response to the unrest in Lahore. Mufti Muneebur Rehman, former chairman of the Ruet-i-Hilal Committee, urged all businesses to remain closed, adding that they protest should be peaceful.
Addressing a press conference, he demanded the government to lift the ban on the TLP and release all its arrested workers. “We have remained calm so that the government may come to its senses, but that does not seem to be happening,” he told journalists and urged political parties to join in the strike.
Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, in a press conference, termed the government’s response “state brutality,” and vowed to “fully support” a nationwide strike. Alleging that injured TLP workers had been denied access to ambulances, he said his party considered the PTI and its lawmakers “terrorists” and would not rest until it had been ousted from power.
He also pledged his support for a TLP long march on Islamabad, saying the JUIF would join it. “Why has the government made the expulsion of the French ambassador an issue? The French ambassador will have to ultimately leave the country,” he said, and—in an echo of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speeches from 2017—asked the Punjab police not to follow the orders of their officers if they are directed to act against the TLP.
The TLP was formally banned by the federal government last week under anti-terror laws after three days of violent protests that left several people dead and many more injured. The clashes were provoked by the government arresting TLP chief Saad Rizvi and—according to the protesters—reneging on an agreement to end all ties with France over the publication of blasphemous caricatures.
While the government did not issue any comment on the riots while they were ongoing, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday posted a statement on Twitter hailing the police for their actions. “I want to pay special tribute to our police force for their heroic stand against organized violence intended to create chaos to blackmail government,” he said, adding that four policemen had been martyred and over 600 other injured.