While some arteries have been cleared, major thoroughfares in several cities continue to be blocked by the party’s workers
Hundreds of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan supporters were taken into custody on Monday night after demonstrations against the arrest of their chief, Saad Hussain Rizvi, turned violent, leaving several policemen and civilians injured and at least two people dead.
On Monday afternoon, police in Punjab province abruptly arrested Rizvi in what has been seen as an attempt to prevent him from leading a long march against the government on April 20. A day earlier, Rizvi had issued a video message to his supporters directing them to be ready for the long march if the government failed to meet the requirements of an agreement it had inked with the TLP in February.
Under the agreement, which was signed to end a protest against blasphemous caricatures published in France and demands for an end to all ties with the European nation, the government had agreed not to arrest any TLP workers and place before Parliament a resolution to evict the French envoy from Pakistan. The deadline for the government to meet these demands was April 20.
As reports of Rizvi’s arrest spread, the TLP issued a call for nationwide protests, with its workers blocking major thoroughfares in all major cities, including Lahore, Islamabad, Karachi, Peshawar and Gujranwala. They blocked highways, motorways and train tracks, resulting in massive traffic jams. Police that tried to disperse the crowds were met with violence, with security forces in some cities resorting to tear-gas shelling and aerial firing in a bid to restore peace. According to a statement issued by the National Highways and Motorways Police, over 50 points on the highways were blocked by TLP workers.
While police continue to deny it, TLP workers have claimed that one of their workers died during clashes with police in Faisalabad. Similarly, the TLP has alleged that one of its workers was also killed in Karachi.
Police were injured in all major cities, including at least three in Lahore; five in Karachi; and several in Rawalpindi. The lengthy blockades also raised the risk of hospitals in Lahore running short of oxygen supplies for coronavirus patients. “The supply is made every eight hours and all critical COVID-19 patients need fresh supplies, which cannot be made because all major arteries of the city are blocked. The crisis situation could quickly assume disaster proportion if supplies are not immediately restored,” Punjab Health Minister Dr. Yasmin Rashid told television channels, as she appealed to the protesters to allow ambulances to pass to ensure no loss of life.
Late on Monday night, police launched a crackdown on TLP workers in Rawalpindi, arresting over 100 people. Similarly, 25 TLP workers were detained in Islamabad, 43 in Chakwal, and six in Gujjar Khan.
The protesters have vowed to continue their protests until Rizvi has been released. There has been no official response from any government official or minister.