34 arrested in Gilgit as protests continue
4 June 2004
Gilgit: At least 34 people were arrested here on Friday for their alleged involvement in violent protests and clashes with security personnel on Thursday. Those arrested have been accused of setting on fire government buildings and firing on security personnel. A senior police official told newsmen that the arrests were made during an operation on Friday morning in Domiyal. These people, he alleged, had set ablaze the Northern Areas Legislative Council hall, stormed the Gilgit Circuit House, burned two vehicles of the Northern Areas Transport Corporation and blocked the River View Road. The Inspector- General of Northern Areas police, Sakhiullah Tareen, said 'The vehicles of some army personnel, SSP Ghizer and other policemen were fired upon on the same road.' However, all security personnel escaped unhurt, he added. He alleged that on Thursday, the protesters had looted over Rs300,000 from the police recruitment training centre in Gilgit and burned down 40 tents dragged a police ambulance into Gilgit River and set on fire another police vehicle. The IGP also accused the protesters of damaging three bridges, in Danyor, Skardu and Brando valley. 'The operation against miscreants and hooligans will continue,' the IGP said adding that they were damaging their own property. Answering a question Mr Tareen said the administration had not closed the doors for dialogue with leaders of the Shia community, adding that exchanges of views on the textbook issue was in progress and moving in positive direction. A stop-gap formula had already been worked out, he said, but added that the Shia leaders had been asked to sign an agreement promising that henceforth there would be no agitation strike, and protests on the issue in future. According to the proposed formula, he said, a separate textbook would be taught in the Shia dominant areas and Sunni students would be taught their own syllabus. In areas with mixed population, each would take a decision according to the situation in his area. Mr Tareen said a relaxation in curfew which was imposed on Thursday could be considered for Saturday. 'At least four C-130 sorties have flown to Gilgit seven platoons of the Frontier Constabulary FC from Peshawar and hundreds of troops to assist the administration and we have asked for more reinforcements, Mr Tareen said. Respectable sources told Dawn that about 30 paramilitary troops had been flown to Hunza and deployed in sensitive areas. The situation in Hunza and Nagar valleys was peaceful on Friday. Meanwhile, protesters defied curfew for the second day in Gilgit and challenged the security forces. Similar reports were received from Baltistan and other areas. 'Hundreds of people assembled at the Imamia Masjid in Gilgit during the curfew hours and took out a procession demanding immediate release of Agha Ziauddin and other Shia leaders who were detained on Thursday, the sources said. They said thousands of protesters from Danyore and Nomal forced to enter the city but police and army personnel stopped them at the entry points. The sources also said that over 2,000 protesters in Gumbah and Skardu took out procession and demanded withdrawal of the 'controversial textbooks'. The sources said that aerial firing was also reported from the Khomer area of Gilgit and in Danyore where a protester, Mohammad Bilal, a resident of Guru, was injured during a crossfire with the paramilitary forces. They said 4,000 protesters attempted to torch a police station at Istak Nala, Rondu valley in Baltistan but police fired teargas shells to disperse them. However, over 1,000 protesters are said to be sitting on the roadside and planning to move to Dumbudas. About 5,000 people staged a demonstration near Thawar valley. Processions were also held in Tulti, Astore, Mehdiabad and Kharmang, in Baltistan, and police said protesters had blocked the Skardu-Shigar road. A procession was also taken out in Hunza after Juma prayers. 'Due to an acute shortage of police force in Northern Areas we are facing problems and we cannot control the entire region', a police official said. Foreigners stranded four German diplomats and 67 foreign tourists are stranded in Gilgit and Hunza because of the sudden imposition of curfew on Gilgit on Thursday. A police official said 'We are trying to help them (foreign tourists) and plan to send them tomorrow to Islamabad. We have requested PIA for special Fokker flights. Otherwise, we will arrange an escort of police and army to send them by road', the IG Police Sakhiullah Tareen said. He said some 50 students of the Punjab University and over 150 vehicles were stranded at Jaglote, 30 kilometres from here and they would be sent to Islamabad on Saturday.