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PoK protests 4th day: Situation remains tense; Shehbaz Sharif allocates Rs 23 billion grant

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PoK Protests Shehbaz Sharif

Islamabad: The situation remained tense in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as the total strike against high prices of wheat flour and inflated electricity bills and taxes entered its fourth day on Monday, forcing the Pakistan government to allocate Rs 23 billion for immediate release to the region to quell a simmering unrest.

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The disputed region witnessed clashes on Saturday between the police and activists of a rights movement, leaving at least one police officer dead and injuring over 100 people, mostly policemen. A complete strike has also been observed in the territory since Friday, bringing life to a halt.

Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who said he was "deeply concerned" about the situation, on Monday approved Rs 23 billion for immediate release to the region after the negotiations between the protesters and the regional government ended in a deadlock.

Ruffled by the unexpected protest and its sensitivity, Prime Minister Sharif chaired a special meeting here on Monday which was attended by PoK "prime minister" Chaudhry Anwarul Haq, local ministers, and top political leadership, the PM’s Office (PMO) said in a statement.

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Prime Minister Sharif approved the immediate provision of Rs23 billion to solve the problems of the people of PoK, it said.

Federal ministers and leaders of the coalition parties also took part in the meeting, where a detailed review of the situation was taken, it added. Kashmir leaders and all participants appreciated Shehbaz for his decision, the PMO said.

The protest is let by the Jammu Kashmir Joint Awami Action Committee (JAAC), which has traders at the forefront in most parts of the region, who have been seeking the provision of electricity as per hydropower generation cost in the region, subsidised wheat flour and an end to the privileges of the elite class.

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A long march led by the JAAC left for Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, on Monday as the wheel-jam strike entered its fourth day.

The movement announced its march on Muzaffarabad after the talks between the JAAC core committee and Chief Secretary of the region Dawood Bareach ended in a stalemate.

A protest leader from Rawalakot accused the government of resorting to evasive tactics.

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Protestors have already staged sit-ins, closing Kohala–Muzaffarabad Road at several locations, the Dawn newspaper reported.

The road stretches 40 kilometres and links Kohala town with Muzaffarabad in PoK. Heavy contingents of police have been posted at roundabouts and sensitive locations, Markets, trade centres and educational institutes remain closed, while transport is suspended, reports said.

The so-called government called in the Rangers after clashes between the police and protesters erupted in Mirpur during demonstrations on Saturday.

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Expressing deep concern over the violent clashes between the police and the protesters, Prime Minister Sharif on Sunday said that there should be “absolutely no tolerance for taking the law into one’s own hands".

"I urge all parties to resort to a peaceful course of action for resolution of their demands. Despite the best efforts of detractors, the matter will hopefully be settled soon," he said.

As part of his efforts to calm down tensions, President Asif Ali Zardari urged all the stakeholders to exercise restraint and resolve the issues through dialogue and mutual consultation.

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He stressed that the political parties, state institutions and the people of the region should act responsibly so that hostile elements could not exploit the situation to their benefit.

The president highlighted that the demands of the people in the region should be addressed as per law, adding that he would take up their grievances with Prime Minister Sharif to find a way out of the current situation.

The president regretted the current situation and offered condolences over the unfortunate death of the police officer and prayed for the swift recovery of all those who were injured in recent clashes.

On Saturday, the violent protesters damaged multiple vehicles, including a magistrate’s car on the Poonch-Kotli road. Moreover, markets, trade centres, offices, schools, and restaurants remained closed across the region.

Police also launched a crackdown against the protesters after the violence, arresting dozens of individuals in Muzaffarabad.

A day earlier, the government also suspended mobile phone and internet services in different parts of the region.

According to a report by Dawn, on May 9 and 10, around 70 activists were arrested by police in a bid to prevent a long march - announced by the JAAC to press the government to comply with an agreement reached between the two in February this year - triggering serious clashes in Dadyal and a “shutter-down strike” call.

In light of the protests, government offices and educational institutions remained closed on Monday.

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