(originally posted on Daily Times)
By Imran Chaudhry and Faizan Warriach
LAHORE: Police broke up Christian protesters in the city with tear gas and baton charges on Monday, a day after suicide bombers killed at least 16 people outside two churches, police said.
The protesters had blocked the Ferozepur Road. “Police wanted them to disperse peacefully and did not take any action,” said Nayab Haider, a spokesman for Lahore police. But a hit-and-run by a woman motorist who was surrounded by the unruly and hostile mob killed two protesters and provoked the crowd, some of whom started throwing stones at cars and private property. “When police tried to stop them, they stoned police and beat officials with batons. In retaliation, police baton-charged them followed by tear gas firing,” Haider said.
Sunday’s attacks, claimed by a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, occurred minutes apart in Youhanabad, a Christian locality of the city. Police said they targeted two churches, one Catholic and one Protestant. Following the blasts, enraged residents beat and burned to death two men they suspected of involvement, a police official said. Protesters also began smashing up shops and attacking vehicles. “I and my driver were coming to Lahore when protesters stopped us, struck our car with batons and beat my driver and told us to go back,” Zulfiqar Ali, a resident of Kahna, south of Lahore, said of Monday’s violence by rampaging mobs of Christian protesters.
Mob violence and clashes between protesters and police continued on Monday. The Ferozepur Road looked like a battlefield. Several people including protesters, police and innocent citizens received injuries during the riot. District government called up three companies of Rangers and deployed them in Youhanabad to control the law and order situation, which calmed down after successful negotiations between the government and Christian community’s representatives. Pakistan Muslim League-N’s Rana Sanaullah talked to the media after visiting Youhanabad and said that terrorists have no religion and they were against Muslims, Christians and people of all other faiths living in Pakistan.
He said terrorists have attack the national unity and want to shatter it, and it is high time the nations show national unity in the face of anti-state elements. He said that the security of churches would be increased in the entire country. Rana said that after the Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched, it was expected that the terrorists would conduct such terror acts. He said that terrorists would not succeed in their ill motives. Meanwhile, bishop of Lahore appealed to the protesters to calm down and not take law into their hands. He said protesters must remain peaceful and members of the Christian community should not resort to violence.
Police had to use water canon, tear gas and batons to disperse the protesters. A large number of protestors from the Christian community came out on the Ferozepur Road near Youhanabad and clashed with police in which several protestors were injured. The protesters blocked the main Ferozpur Road and shouted anti-government slogans. Armed with clubs and batons they stopped ordinary citizens, beat them up and vandalised their vehicles as well as public property. The metro bus service was also suspended due to the protest.