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2 Killed in Pakistan Airline Privatization Protest

  • Ayaz Gul

Employees of the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) chant slogans as they march towards the Jinnah International Airport during a protest in Karachi, Pakistan, Feb. 2, 2016.

At least two people were killed and several others wounded Tuesday in Pakistan’s commercial capital of Karachi when a demonstration against official plans to privatize the national airline turned violent and some protesters clashed with security forces.

Rally organizers alleged that paramilitary forces fired at them to prevent the rally from marching towards the airport in the city where Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is headquartered. Those killed and wounded were said to be employees of the ailing airline.

Water cannons, tear gas used

Police used water cannons and tear gas to keep the marchers from approaching Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport. But speaking to reporters at the scene, senior police officer Kamran Fazal denied his force opened fire.

Hundreds of PIA employees have been for weeks protesting its privatization. Tuesday’s violence and employees strike, however, did not cause any significant disruption in flight operations or at PIA offices across Pakistan.

Demonstrations are taking place despite government assurances that the privatization of the ailing carrier would not cause mass layoffs.

Protest ban

On Monday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif enacted legislation to bar PIA employees from striking for six months. A government minister also warned those who continue the strike will be treated as enemies of PIA and Pakistan and will end up losing their jobs.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Sharif warned that protesting PIA employees will be held accountable and alleged his political opponents are backing the agitation.

Reports from major cities, including Islamabad said later in the evening that flight operations began shutting down as the news of the deaths of two PIA employees spread.

Demonstrators gathered outside the airport in the capital city and vowed to continue their protest unless the government accepted their demands.