KARACHI: Two people were killed and at least three others injured on Tuesday after law enforcement personnel allegedly opened fire at employees of the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) protesting near the Jinnah International airport in Karachi against privatization of the national flag carrier.
Five people, including the cameraman of a local TV channel and four PIA workers, were earlier reported to have been injured in the clash between protesting PIA workers and law enforcement personnel.
But officials at a private hospital later confirmed that one injured person brought to the hospital died during treatment, while another body was brought for autopsy. One of the deceased was identified as Anayat Raza.
The incident came a day after the prime minister enforced the Essential Services Maintenance Act 1952 for six months in an effort to block the impending strike.
The law essentially restricts activity in state-administered sectors, including the railways, postal services, telephone and affiliated services, and airports and seaports, with violators to face punishment, fine or both. “Any person found guilty of an offence under this Act shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year and shall also be liable to a fine,” reads the legislation.
But anti-privatization demonstrators were determined to disrupt flight operations from Tuesday despite the government’s threat of termination of services.
Television footage from earlier in the day showed police and Rangers personnel using batons, water cannon and tear gas against protesters when they began to move towards the Jinnah International Airport for the protest demonstration.
Eyewitnesses and reporters said they heard gunshots being fired as a clash broke out between the protesting PIA workers and the law enforcers. It was unclear who fired the shots.
The Joint Action Committee of PIA employees, which had called the strike, accused Rangers personnel of opening fire at the demonstrators.
"Rangers personnel fired the shots," claimed Capt Sohail Baloch, Chief of the Joint Action Committee. "They didn't tell us they would be using force. Firing straight at unarmed people is unacceptable."
A spokesman for the Sindh Rangers, however, said in a statement that no bullet was fired by the paramilitary personnel during the incident.
Speaking to reporters, DIG East Kamran Fazal said he was unaware about the death of the injured person, adding that police would open an investigation into who opened fire on the protesters.
Police has gathered bullet casings from the scene to determine the weapons used and who fired the shots, he said.
A large contingent of Rangers and police personnel was stationed outside the airport to control the protesters and avoid any untoward incident.
The strike has reportedly caused work at the engineering, store, flight kitchen, and line maintenance departments to be completely suspended, while some flights have been affected during to the protest.
But despite the strike in Karachi and at PIA offices across Pakistan, flights suffered no major disruption on Tuesday.
Once a source of pride for Pakistan, flights of the loss-making carrier are now frequently cancelled.
The government has sought to allay fears the move could bring mass layoffs, but sporadic protests have continued.