Clashes in Azad Kashmir, One Police Officer killed, more than 100 injured on highest power tariff

A police officer was killed and more than 100 people, mostly policemen, injured in violent clashes between security forces and protesters agitating against high prices of wheat flour and electricity in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), media reports said on Sunday.

The disputed region witnessed clashes on Saturday between the police and activists of a rights movement amid a wheel-jam and shutter-down strike across the territory, the media reported.

Mirpur SSP Kamran Ali told that sub-inspector Adnan Qureshi succumbed to a gunshot wound in the chest in Islamgarh town, 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 Jammu Kashmir Joint Awami Action Committee (JAAC).

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

The regional government has called in the Rangers and a heavy contingent of policemen to stop the massive protests.

Mobile phone and internet services were suspended in different parts of the PoK, including Bhimber and Bagh towns, Geo News reported.

In Mirpur, all the mobile networks and internet service have been suspended, it added.

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has called an emergency meeting related to the situation in the region at the President’s House on Monday, said sources.

They added that the president instructed stakeholders to bring proposals to resolve the issue. 

On Wednesday and Thursday, 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.

The committee had subsequently announced a strike on Friday, a day ahead of its planned long march.

Amid a crippling strike, violent clashes took place between police and protesters in different areas of Muzaffarabad, the capital of PoK.

Authorities placed mounds of earth on arteries leading to Muzaffarabad, apart from making more arrests, to prevent people from heading towards the state capital.

Witnesses said that Muzaffarabad 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 after they were pelted with stones and bottles by protesters.

Kotli SSP Mir Muhammad Abid said that at least 78 policemen were injured in the district in ‘attacks by 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 in Kotli, said apart from the 59 wounded policemen, nine injured protesters were also brought for treatment.

SSP Abid said some police officials were also reportedly injured in Doliya Jattan.

A total of 29 protesters were injured in the clashes, according to  channel News.

JAAC spokesperson Hafeez Hamdani said 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, Finance Minister of PoK 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.

He said the government had accepted all demands of the action committee after which an agreement was signed between the committee and government negotiators, including the provision of targeted subsidy on flour and freezing the electricity tariff on June 2022 levels, but the committee later deviated from the agreement and announced a protest on new demands.

Pok’s so-called prime minister Chaudhry Anwarul Haq said that the government was ready to give related relief to electricity and wheat flour prices after violent protests in Mirpur killed one officer and injured over 70 others.

“The government held negotiations with the Awami Action Committee and we reached an agreement which we are determined to implement,” Geo News quoted Haq as saying.

Authorities have banned public gatherings, rallies, and processions in all districts in the wake of protests, with Section 144 imposed in the entire region.

Several of the AAC members were arrested by police in Muzaffarabad and Mirpur divisions last week.

Later, the committee announced a shutter-down and wheel-jam strike on Friday, a day ahead of its planned long march towards Muzaffarabad.

On Saturday, AJK police blocked the arteries leading to Muzaffarabad, and resorted to baton charge and teargas shelling to disperse the protesters.

Several demonstrators coming from Islamgarh and its adjoining areas were injured after police tried to stop them

Sub-Inspector Adnan Qureshi was martyred after sustaining a gunshot wound to his chest in Mirpur, Islamgarh whereas several others were injured. The wounded were shifted to the DHQ Hospital.

The funeral prayers for the martyred police official will be offered on Sunday (today) at 3pm at Mirpur Cricket Stadium.

It was reported that SHO Islamgarh police station was critically injured after a bullet pierced his chest during the clashes between the protestors and the police.

Clashes between the demonstrators and police continued in Kotli, Poonch and Muzaffarabad divisions. An official vehicle was set on fire in Rihan area.

As the crackdown against the protesters continued, several people were taken into custody from different parts of the region.

In Kotli, 12 police officials 28 protesters were injured.

Expressing concern over the situation, the PTI termed the government action against the protesters its “failure”.

In a statement, the PTI spokesperson noted that the government which “lacked credibility, competence and public support” had become a “curse” for the people.

The party said that “use of extra-constitutional power” and “dictatorial governance” led to “tension and chaos” in the entire society.The central leadership of the Azad Kashmir Joint Awami Action Committee (AAC) on Sunday dissociated from violent incidents between protestors and police in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). 

Yesterday, clashes broke out between protesters and law enforcement personnel during a protest against the increase in electricity tariffs in Mirpur. A sub-inspector was martyred and 16 police officials including a station house officer (SHO) were injured 

Members of the committee reiterated their commitment to conducting a peaceful movement and declared that any propaganda against the state of Pakistan on social media is 'utterly unacceptable'.

“The insidious Indian media is fabricating baseless allegations to conceal the atrocities in Occupied Kashmir, which are devoid of any connection with reality” the committee stated

In December 2023, the AAC came to an agreement with an official reconciliation committee, which was followed by a government notification issued on Feb 4. However, in April, the committee declared its intention to organize a long march on May 11, protesting the government's “failure” to fulfill its written commitments.

Last week, several of the AAC members were arrested by police in Muzaffarabad and Mirpur divisions. The committee announced a shutter-down and wheel-jam strike on Friday and AJK police blocked the arteries leading to Muzaffarabad and resorted to baton charge and teargas shelling to disperse the protesters on Saturday. As the crackdown against the protesters continued, several people were taken into custody from different parts of the region.

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