ISLAMABAD (AP) – Thousands of Pakistanis battled with police and torched a lawmaker’s house Tuesday on the third consecutive day of violent protests against widespread power cuts that have plagued the country during the hottest part of the year, police said.
After years of underinvestment and bad management in the energy sector, many Pakistanis receive only a few hours of electricity a day during the sweltering summer months. Many in the country’s Punjab province, which is controlled by the opposition and has seen the most violent protests, feel their region shoulders an unfairly large portion of the rolling blackouts.
Police and witnesses said rioting broke out in at least two areas of Punjab where residents often get as little as four hours of electricity a day.
Thousands of rioters stormed the house of Riaz Fatiyana, a local lawmaker allied with the national government from the town of Kamaliya, burning his vehicles and possessions, police officer Mohammed Shafique said.
Fatiyana’s Pakistan Muslim League-Q party is part of the coalition government of President Asif Ali Zardari. The rival Pakistan Muslim League-N is in charge of Punjab province.
Speaking to local media, Fatiyana accused the police of standing by and giving a free hand to rioters to attack his home.
But a senior police official, Mohammed Raouf, denied the allegation. He said the mob ruthlessly attacked government and private buildings and said police officers were trying to restore order. Raouf accused Fatiyana’s guards of opening fire on the rioters, wounding some of them. The rioters then retaliated by burning the lawmaker’s home, Raouf said.
He said so far about 30 rioters had been injured in clashes with police.
In the nearby Khanewal district, police fired tear gas to disperse rock-throwing protesters attempting to torch the offices of the local power company.
The government has been frantically trying to address the dire energy situation.
The Pakistani president met Tuesday in the capital with officials to discuss ways to solve the energy crisis. But the riots came as Pakistan’s top court ruled that the prime minister was no longer eligible to hold office due to an earlier contempt conviction, ushering in fresh political turmoil. The verdict by the Supreme Court against Yousuf Reza Gilani is likely to consume most of the government’s attention for some time.