Sunday, October 12, 2014

Pakistan: PTI responsible for stampede deaths, say police

As another victim of Friday’s stampede in Multan breathed his last Saturday, the local police, provincial administration, senior politicians and political observers have held the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) responsible for the deaths of eight people at Qasim Bagh Stadium, terming the event an unashamed display of a grossly mismanaged affair.
In an initial investigation report, jointly sent by the CCPO and Multan district coordination officer to the Prime Minister House Saturday, Multan Police has claimed that PTI paid no attention to the situation even after a police officer present on stage informed PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi about it.
The report also claimed that the people responsible for the event’s administration were told several times to make announcements for emergency help. The appeals, however, fell on deaf ears.
“Soon after the public meeting, people started moving out of the venue and due to congestion, two people died on the spot,” the report says, adding that there were only five exit gates which were not enough for such a large gathering. A number of people also slipped and suffered injuries due to water on the ground, it adds.
The police say that 200 policemen were posted at the venue and the arrangements were finalised by PTI just a night before the event.
Following the police report, the Punjab government Saturday formed a three-member committee to investigate the stampede incident which claimed eight lives and left 43 others injured.
The committee, headed by Environment Secretary Iqbal Muhammad and comprising DIG Ali Amir Malik and Home Department Special Secretary Dr Shoaib Akhtar, will investigate the incident and submit a report to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.
In the meanwhile, Punjab Minister for Prisons Chaudhry Abdul Waheed Arrain claimed that lights were not switched off by the district administration as PTI was responsible for the arrangements inside the stadium.
Holding PTI responsible for the mismanagement, the minister said that Qasim Bagh Stadium was selected on district administration’s directions after PTI’s local leaders had moved an application to the Multan DCO for permission of a public gathering. He added that PTI leader Tariq Naeemullah put an application to MEPCO for electricity at the stadium but did not pay the demand notice.
Arrain said that five gates out of six were opened for public entry and exit while the remaining gate was closed with a container by PTI organisers. He added that 2,200 policemen, 400 personnel of traffic police and officials of other departments were deputed for the gathering.
Moreover, during a media briefing, Punjab government spokesman Zaeem Qadri claimed there had been an agreement between the Multan DCO and PTI that if any untoward incident took place, the latter would be responsible.
Expressing surprise that the PTI chief considered it appropriate to go to Islamabad instead of staying in Multan after the tragic incident, Qadri termed PTI administration incapable of making requisite arrangements for rallies.
On the other hand, PTI has blamed the police and local administration for the loss of lives, alleging that most of the gates were kept locked and lights switched off early.
Rejecting Multan Police’s report and the three-member investigation committee formed by the Punjab government, PTI Vice-Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi told a press conference Saturday, “This is all just drama from the government. On Friday they said this incident was an accident, but today they have formed a committee.”
Responding to former PTI president Javed Hashmi’s statement about the party wanting an opportunity to politicise deaths, Qureshi said, “His accusations are a part of his election campaign which he is busy in. Anyways, why would we want our supporters, who love us, to die?”
Moreover, addressing the participants of the PTI sit-in at D-Chowk Islamabad, the PTI chief also expressed his mistrust in the government-formed committee. He also criticised the local administration for opening only two gates of the venue after the event concluded.
Khan also vowed that he will meet the families of the victims of Multan stampede today (Sunday) and promised that he will get justice served to them at any cost.
Sources in PTI admitted that the event had been grossly mismanaged as there was no check on participants, as some of them even managed to get on top of the container where Imran Khan was present.
They said that the event organisers had even forgotten to place a ladder besides the container, forcing the leadership, including Imran Khan to get on the container by climbing an electricity pylon.
A government source, on the condition of anonymity, said that the organisers had ill-planned the event.
“There was no exit plan for such a large number of people. The PTI leadership knows that its rallies always attract a large number of people therefore they should have planned the event keeping in mind all scenarios. Moreover, it was the senior leadership’s responsibility to oversee the arrangements but in this particular case they shifted the burden on to the event managers who failed to fathom the situation,” he said.
The PTI source acknowledged the lapse by the leadership, saying all future events would now be supervised by the senior leadership.
“We regret the loss of lives in Friday’s stampede but I hope such incidents will not recur in future,” he concluded.

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