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At least one police officer was killed and 90 others were wounded after violent clashes erupted in Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK) during the ongoing protests and shutter down strike across the region, Dawn reported on Saturday. According to the report which cited Mirpur Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Kamran Ali Sub-inspector Adnan Qureshi succumbed to a gunshot wound in the chest in the town of Islamgarh where he was deployed along with other police personnel to stop a rally for Muzaffarabad via Kotli and Poonch districts under the banner of the Joint Awami Action Committee (JAAC).

The JAAC, which has traders at the forefront in most parts of the region, has been seeking the provision of electricity as per hydropower generation cost in PoJK, subsidised wheat flour and an end to the privileges of the elite class.

On Wednesday-Thursday night, around 70 JAAC activists were arrested by police during raids at their residences and those of their relatives in Muzaffarabad and Mirpur divisions, triggering serious clashes in Dadyal on Thursday. The committee had subsequently announced a shutter-down and wheel-jam strike on Friday, a day ahead of its planned long march towards Muzaffarabad today. Amid a crippling strike on Friday, fierce clashes between police and protesters were witnessed in different areas of Muzaffarabad. Dawn reported that the authorities had placed mounds of earth on paths leading to Muzaffarabad, apart from making more arrests, to prevent people from heading towards the city.

Witnesses said that Muzaffarabad division and Poonch division observed complete strikes. SSP Yasin Baig said at least one police officer and a young boy were injured as police resorted to teargas shelling and aerial firing in some neighbourhoods. Kotli SSP Mir Muhammad Abid said in a statement that at least 78 policemen were injured in the district in “attacks of miscreants under the guise of protest”.

The SSP said 59 policemen, including Deputy Superintendent of Police Ilyas Janjua, and two revenue department officials were injured in Rehaan Galli while another 19 policemen were injured in Sehnsa Baroiyan. A press release from the District Headquarters Hospital Kotli said apart from the 59 wounded policemen, nine injured protesters were also brought to for treatment. SSP Abid said some police officials were also reportedly injured in Doliya Jattan.

JAAC spokesperson Hafeez Hamdani made it clear while talking to that the action committee had nothing to do with violence. “It seems that such elements have been purposely planted in the ranks of protesters to bring a bad name to a struggle that aims nothing but the legitimate rights of the people,” he said. Addressing a press conference, PoJK Finance Minister Abdul Majid Khan said that the government had exercised “maximum restraint and is ready for talks to peacefully address all contentious issues.

“Issues have to be resolved through dialogue and our doors are always open for negotiations. But the offer should not be misconstrued as a weakness of the government,” he said. PML-N regional president Shah Ghulam Qadir termed the entire situation “inappropriate” and called on all actors to play their role in establishing peace. He said he had talked to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and alerted him about all the demands of the protesters. “He expressed concern and I request all PML-N officeholders to talk to the leaders of the action committee … so this movement for their demands can remain peaceful,” he said.

Qadir also urged the PoJK government to open the door for negotiations. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) regional secretary general Chaudhry Tariq Farooq said, “If the powerful and responsible circles in Pakistan have any concern about the people…they should pay immediate attention before it’s too late.” Former PoJK premier and senior PML-N leader Raja Farooq Haider urged the demonstrators to protest peacefully for the resolution of their demands and not take the law into their hands and damage government properties. He also offered his condolences for the sub-inspector’s death and called for an end to the “lawlessness”.