At least eight people were killed and 85 others were injured in clashes between police and supporters of a charismatic cleric in Lahore, Pakistan today.
According to a Jinnah hospital spokesperson, 17 policemen are among those wounded.
Clashes continued throughout the day as protesters chanted slogans against the government and pelted the police with stones.
Lahore police resorted to a baton charge, and tear gas to disperse the protesters.
The clashes erupted after members of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), a political party founded by cleric Dr. Tahirul Qadri, went to Model Town Colony — an area in the city of Lahore — to protest the removal of barricades at the secretariat of PAT office and Qadri’s residence.
The barriers were installed for the security of the building.
“The hurdles were being removed as people were facing difficulties in their movements and complaints filed by the residents of Model Town Colony,” said Lahore Capital City Police Officer Shafique Ahmed. “Police acted in self-defense and weapons were also recovered from the secretariat.”
But Qadri supporters said the barriers were there legally.
“The barriers were erected four years ago, lawfully through the permission and watchful eyes of police forces within Model Town in Lahore after a court order by the high court of Lahore to close the roads near the secretariat,” said Khurram Nawaz Gandapur, secretary general of PAT.
But Rana Sanaullah, Punjab Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs said Qadri had “deployed a private militia at his residence and created no-go areas.”
“(The) government received information from intelligence agencies about the presence of armed men in the area. This situation would not be allowed,” Sanaullah said.
Qadri denounced the police’s operation via videolink from Canada and said “state terrorism would not be tolerated.”
He blamed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif for the deaths of his supporters today.
“The police took action, on the orders of the government, because of his support for the army during the ongoing operation in North Waziristan,” Qadri said, referring to the large scale military operation to combat the Taliban.
Qadri, who currently lives in Canada, has been a vocal critic of the Punjab government.
He sought asylum in Canada after receiving death threats. He is currently a Canadian citizen.
Earlier this month, Qadri told the government that he's coming back to Pakistan and they are responsible for his security.
In December 2012, he marched from Lahore to Islamabad with more than 25,000 people. He stayed there for four days and then an agreement was signed between government and Qadri.
The "Islamabad Long March Declaration,” promised electoral reforms and increased political transparency.
After the Long March, the Canadian government asked him for explanation of what was he doing in Pakistan because he told their government that his life is under threat in Pakistan.
Qadri has been aiming to introduce the culture of democracy, promote economic stability, and improve the state of human rights, justice, and women's roles in Pakistan.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has ordered a judicial inquiry of the incident calling for strict action against those responsible for the violence.
“I have ordered formation of a judicial commission to probe the incident and will resign if found responsible for the violent clashes between supporters of the PAT and the Punjab Police,” Sharif said at a news conference.
Osama Motiwala contributed to this report.
All photos by Amna Nasir Jamal