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Friday, May 31, 2024  
22 Dhul-Qadah 1445  

AJK protesters end strike after key demands met

Shutter-down strike still observed in region over killing of three people
Protest demanding a subsidy on electricity and wheat prices in the face of rising inflation in Pakistan-ruled Kashmir, during a demonstration in Karachi. AFP
Protest demanding a subsidy on electricity and wheat prices in the face of rising inflation in Pakistan-ruled Kashmir, during a demonstration in Karachi. AFP
Rangers cordon off a street during a protest by Kashmiri demonstrators of Joint Awami Action Committee (JAAC) to condemn the soaring electricity and flour prices, on the outskirt of Muzaffarabad, the capital of AJK on May 13, 2024. AFP
Rangers cordon off a street during a protest by Kashmiri demonstrators of Joint Awami Action Committee (JAAC) to condemn the soaring electricity and flour prices, on the outskirt of Muzaffarabad, the capital of AJK on May 13, 2024. AFP

The Joint Action Committee in Azad Jammu and Kashmir announced its decision to end its wheel-jam strike on Tuesday after several days of protests over high fuel and wheat prices. At least four people have been killed and over 100 injured, officials said.

“Thank God, our one-year effort for people’s rights has borne fruits. We have been given a big package,” the alliance’s head, Shaukat Nawaz Mir, said in a video message as he called off the protests.

The decision comes a day after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif approved a grant of Rs23 billion to help meet most of their demands, which included subsidies on flour and electricity prices.

Separately, AJK Prime Minister Chaudhry Anwarul Haq announced the details of the relief package and shared the notifications to the media persons.

The price of flour has been by Rs1,100 per 40kg while the price of 20 kilograms of flour was set at Rs1000.

For domestic consumers, electricity rates were set at Rs3 per unit for up to 100 units, Rs5 per unit for 100 to 300 units, and Rs6 per unit for consumption exceeding 300 units. Commercial consumers were charged at Rs10 per unit for up to 300 units and Rs15 per unit for consumption exceeding 300 units.

The alliance head warned that they would again gather if they faced any difficulty. The committee took the decision after its meeting which ended at 2am.

The shutter-down strike is expected to end by evening. The committee maintained that three of its demands have been met: including relief in electricity cost, wheat subsidy, and ending perks for elites.

The shutter-down strike is being continued because of the three people who died on Monday. The committee is observing the “Day of Mourning” and “Black Day” on Tuesday over the three people’s deaths.

It has also demanded a judicial inquiry into the killing of a policeman in Mirpur and three people in Muzaffarbad. “Firing innocent citizens is state terrorism,” the committee said and demanded that all the arrested protesters should be released and cases against them should be ended.

Three killed in Muzaffarabad

Three people were killed when paramilitary troops clashed with protesters in Azad Jammu and Kashmir on Monday, an official said, on the fourth day of demonstrations over rising costs as the package announced by the federal and region’s government failed to placate the protests.

“Three protesters have been killed, all of whom were shot, and currently there are eight reported injuries,” said Nadeem Janjua, a government official and deputy commissioner of Muzaffarabad.

The situation in various districts of Azad Kashmir has once again deteriorated, with heightened tensions and clashes between police and protesters. Internet services, including in Muzaffarabad, were restored for a few hours but were later shut down.

Thousands of people have rallied since Friday, with more than 10,000 turning out on Monday despite government offers of financial support to the region.

The government sent paramilitary troops known as Rangers into the area on Monday and the internet was largely shut down.

As a result of the clashes, two individuals lost their lives while five others sustained injuries. In a show of protest, demonstrators placed bodies outside the Combined Military Hospital (CMH).

A doctor at the CMH in the city earlier told AFP on condition of anonymity that two people had died from gunshot wounds.

“Many Rangers were also injured but the data regarding that is yet to be compiled,” the doctor added.

Another doctor from the same hospital said: “One of the dead is a ninth-grade student around 16 or 17 years old, and the other is in his thirties.”

Protests continue despite relief package

On the fourth consecutive day, normal life could not be restored in Azad Kashmir. The region’s government issued a notification reducing the price of flour by Rs1,100 per 40kg, while the price of 20 kilograms of flour was set at Rs1000.

The government also issued a notification regarding a reduction in electricity tariffs. For domestic consumers, rates were set at Rs3 per unit for up to 100 units, Rs5 per unit for 100 to 300 units, and Rs6 per unit for consumption exceeding 300 units. Commercial consumers were charged at Rs10 per unit for up to 300 units and Rs15 per unit for consumption exceeding 300 units.

AJK protests continue for second day, leading to food shortage, troubles for tourists

However, despite these measures, the situation did not calm down.

Life briefly returned to normal for a few hours, but suddenly the city erupted in violence again, and Chattar Chowk turned into a battlefield. Consequently, internet services were suspended in Muzaffarabad.

Protesters outside the assembly threw stones at the police, who responded with a baton charge. Two individuals lost their lives due to stone-throwing and firing, while five others were injured.

Subsequently, the situation further deteriorated as protesters set fire to four vehicles, including two ambulances.

PM Shehbaz approves ‘immediate’ release of Rs23 bn for AJK

A convoy reached Muzaffarabad, where it began to gather at the Eidgah Ground, where leaders of the Awami Action Committee will address the crowd.

The government responded to the demands of the Awami Action Committee in Jammu and Kashmir by issuing notifications to reduce electricity and flour prices.

Negotiations were ongoing, said Sardar Saqib Shaheen, a member of the Awami Action Committee union which is behind the protests.

“Some demands were met and some were not,” he told a press conference in Islamabad.

AJK people face misery

Asim Tariq, a 27 year-old student from Gojra Bypass where clashes broke out, said a tear gas shell entered his house.

“It affected my mother’s health and I could not take her to the hospital due to what was happening in the city. I was scared I might lose her.”

“They should not have shot at the protesters. We were just asking for our rights and got bullet shots in return,” added Muhammad Qasim, a 37-year-old shopkeeper.

AJK is a semi-autonomous region with its own regional government.

The country has recently suffered through a major financial crisis which saw imports blocked, inflation soar and the rupee plummet against the dollar.

However, inflation has steadily reduced and the currency rate has stabilised, with the help of an International Monetary Fund agreements.

PPP leaders blast AJK PM as internet, cellular services remain suspended amid strike

Centre, AJK government announce relief package

AJK PM Chaudhry Anwar-ul-Haq held a press conference in Islamabad and stated that no one can deny the need for affordable bread and electricity.

He emphasized that the federal government has provided a substantial amount of funds to fulfil the demands of the people of Azad Kashmir, and this relief is not temporary but sustainable.

Prior to this, Prime Minister of Pakistan, Shahbaz Sharif, demanded an emergency meeting today to be briefed on the situation in Azad Kashmir and immediately approved the release of 23 billion Pakistani rupees. Following the approval, the government of Azad Kashmir issued notifications to reduce electricity and flour prices.

(With input from AFP)

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Muzaffarabad

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azad jammu and kashmir