Dr Tahirul Qadri refuses to get off at Lahore airport

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: Emirates Airline flight EK-612 carrying Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri has landed at the main terminal of Allama Iqbal International Airport, Lahore on Monday morning after being diverted from Islamabad.

Dr Qadri has refused to leave the plane as the authorities took him to Lahore instead of Islamabad.

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) earlier told that the flight EK-612 of Emirates Airline carrying Dr Qadri was diverted to Lahore who was arriving from Dubai and landed at 9:35 am at the main terminal of Lahore airport.

The authority further told that other passengers will be flown to Islamabad after Dr Qadri is escorted at the Lahore airport.

On the other hand, a temporary helipad has been prepared at the Minhaj ul Quran Secretariat for the helicopter that will safely carry PAT chief to the secretariat.

Strict security measures were witnessed at the Lahore airport before Dr Qadri’s arrival.

Earlier, a larger number of PAT workers crossed all barriers to reach the Benazir International Airport to welcome their chief Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri who was expected to land in the federal capital earlier.

Dr Qadri’s supporters clashed with police and chanted slogans against the government as law enforcers tried to prevent them from reaching the airport. The police baton charged the supporters and resorted to using tear gas to disperse the crowd near Faizabad.

Following clashes with supporters, the police finally had to retreat after enraged activists pelted them with stones. Dozens of policemen were injured in the clashes, hospital sources told.

The protesters carrying banners and flags of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek, defying section 144 imposed by the government in the wake of the Qadris’ arrival continued their march to the airport.

A sense of anticipation hangs over the capital as cleric-cum-political leader Tahirul Qadri lands back in Pakistan to throw up one of the bigger political challenges to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) year-old government.

As supporters of PAT chief Tahirul fervently wait for their leader to kickoff his movement against the ruling government, a sense of anxiety and uncertainty has enveloped the country.

Major roads have been blocked off and security has been tightened in theRawalpindi and Islamabad.

Earlier this week, at least ten people were killed and scores injured in Lahore when violent clashes erupted between the police and followers of Qadri – the deadliest political confrontation in Lahore since emergency rule was imposed by General Musharraf in 2007.

Around 40 Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) supporters sustained injuries in a clash with the police near the Benazir Bhutto International Airport in Islamabad, as they gathered to receive their leader, Dr Tahiur Qadri.

Police fired tear gas shells to disperse Qadri’s supporters who had gathered at the blockades on Expressway, the main artery that leads to the airport near Koral Chowk, early Monday morning.

PAT workers had staged a sit-in at the chowk Sunday evening and started marching towards the airport at 4am Monday morning, demanding the police to remove containers placed on the highway in order to reach the airport.

“We have to receive our leader whatever the consequences are,” Akhtar Ali, a local leader of the PAT told local media.

“We can spend nights under the open sky to stand united with our leader and the government should have understood our commitment. We have to reach airport whatever the consequences will be,” he added.

The clash occurred just as the sticks-wielding PAT workers, both men and women, began marching towards the airport.

“Several of our workers were baton charged and injured seriously,” Ghulam Ali, the PAT district president, said. “The police have no right to stop us from going to the airport,” he added.

Many workers also sustained minor injuries and had to be provided first aid care.

The police have blocked all roads leading to the airport at the Faizabad interchange by placing containers and trucks on the Murree Road, Islamabad Highway, IJ Principal Road and other link roads.

The police also thrashed Express News cameraman Husnain and snatched his mobile phone.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has suspended mobile phone services  in Islamabad and Rawalpindi between 7am and 1pm.

Administrations of the Quaid-i-Azam University, Federal Urdu University and other colleges have postponed scheduled exams, and will announce new dates later.

Earlier, Residents of the twin cities were blindsided on Sunday after the district administrations started blocking major roads by placing heavy containers without any prior public announcement ahead of Dr Tahirul Qadri’s arrival on Monday morning.

Security was tightened and deployment on the checkpoints lining all entry and exit routes for the two cities was increased. Leave for all law enforcement personnel were also cancelled.

The closure of major roads sparked massive traffic jams. Thousands of commuters were stranded on Airport Road, Peshawar Road, IJ Principal Road and Murree Road in the scorching heat.