A protest in Bahria Town Karachi (BTK) against land grabbing turned violent as fast food franchises, several vehicles, a showroom and two offices of estate agents were set ablaze and police resorted to teargas shelling and firing rubber bullets.
The violent incident happened on Sunday after a mob forced its way through the main gate during a protest by the Sindh Action Committee (SAC) against a mega housing project. Thousands of people had arrived at the housing project from different parts of the province to stage a peaceful protest against ‘land grabbing’, ‘forced eviction of locals’ and ‘demolition of villages’ in the name of development, reported Dawn.
The protesters refused to accept any blame for the trouble, alleging that the BTK staff themselves got hold of some nationalist party flags and set fire to the main gate, the Business Trade Centre, the car showroom and more on their own to malign their protest.
The protest was held to raise the issue of the Sindh province’s indigenous people and the snatching of their ancestral lands. The protests was marked by the slogan ‘Halo halo [proceed proceed] Bahria Town’, attracting thousands of people.
Officials said that when the police attempted to stop SAC leaders, intellectuals, rights activists and others travelling in caravan of vehicles from moving close to BTK, they staged a sit-in on the highway, affecting heavy traffic flow.
Soon after, protesters suddenly started removing barriers and reached the BTK main gate. The situation worsened as a mob then forced its way through the main gate and set fire to it as well as offices, restaurants, showroom and other property, triggering panic, Dawn reported citing witnesses.
Fire brigade officials later said they managed to control the fire at five to six places in BTK with the help of five fire tenders.
Several people, including women and children, were injured after law enforcement agencies resorted to firing tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets, baton charging and arrests.
A senior police officer requesting anonymity told Dawn that around 8,000-10,000 protesters arrived and removed temporary barriers before more than 100 of them entered BTK.
He later said that the provincial administration or the ruling party had not made any effort to hold talks with SAC leaders before their arrival.
However, SAC chief Syed Jalal Mehmood Shah told the media that the people who indulged in violence had nothing to do with his party. He said miscreants by indulging in violent acts tried to give different colour to their peaceful struggle.
Leaders of the Pakistan People Party said that buildings in the BTK were damaged due to fire incidents, which “was an attempt to sabotage peace”. “The protesters took law into their hands,” said the adviser to Sindh chief minister Nisar Ahmed Khuhro.
On the same day, rallies and protests were organised in Karachi on Sunday against the land-grabbing of Sindh by the Imran Khan-led government in the name of development by Jeay Sindh Freedom Movement (JSFM).