Pakistan’s largest city witnessed a violent anti-government rally Saturday as demonstrators clashed with police and ambulances were torched.
The rally by anti-government Islamists in Lahore, which started late Friday, closed some roads and streets around the international airport. At least three protesters were killed and over a hundred injured when police opened fire on the crowds, said police official Sadakat Ali.
More than 100 vehicles, including police vans, ambulances and buses, were damaged. The anti-government protesters — hundreds of whom were carrying weapons — looted banks, restaurants and dozens of gas stations.
Dozens of Islamist protesters surged toward Lahore’s congested Data Darbar shrine and nearby residential areas on Saturday. The Shiite Muslim shrines are well-known sites of worship for Shiite Muslim pilgrims, and the militants came from the nearby Sunni township of Mauza Landi, the main town in Punjab Province.
The militants set ablaze homes and shops. Several vehicles were also set on fire and security forces fired in the air.
After some of the attackers burst through the security gate, more than 1,500 security personnel sealed off the gates of the shrine, forcing many of the protesters to surrender, Ali said.
Several violent incidents occurred on Friday during the rally. Protesters smashed the window panes of cars and attacked them with stones. Some of the protesters attacked them with sticks and axes, knocking down some of the bystanders.
Lahore’s hospital was also put on lockdown after the attack. Most of the slain protesters were killed on the spot. Police were only alerted after the toll reached three, Ali said.
Some six senior police officers were among the wounded.
In January, the crowds in Lahore broke into the shrine and chanted anti-government slogans. The protests were the biggest opposition rally in Pakistan in the past decade.
The Punjab government, led by former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, has faced increasing pressure from opposition parties against a crackdown against local Muslim leaders who they accuse of causing sectarian attacks.
Thousands of Shiite Muslims in the restive southern city of Karachi protested against the recent killings of 20 Shiite Hazaras in the neighboring Baluchistan province. At least 15 people, including the Shia leader of the provincial assembly in Baluchistan, were wounded in Friday clashes.
By providing a safe passage to the demonstrators, police allowed former provincial lawmaker Hameedullah Khan to lead a protest of around 500 people in front of the Sindh Assembly. Protesters broke a number of vehicles and burnt one to the ground, said police official Zeeshan Abbasi.
Shia Muslims make up around 15 percent of Pakistan’s population of 190 million. As sectarian violence spreads, attacks have claimed more than 300 lives in the past two years.
Copyright Associated Press