MULTAN, Pakistan, (AP) – A crowd protesting power cuts rioted Monday in the home city of Pakistan’s new prime minister, ransacking the office of the state electricity company, torching a bank and leaving at least 13 people injured.
Several hundred men marched on the office of the Water and Power Development Authority in Multan to protest power cuts that the city’s textile industry said were killing business.
Some protesters stormed the office, dragged furniture into the front yard and set it ablaze along with several motorcycles. About a dozen cars and buses and a nearby bank building were also set on fire.
The protest was organized by a textile industry association, which had set Sunday as a deadline for the electricity company to reduce power outages, known locally as load-shedding.
Express News television showed protesters armed with sticks breaking windows, overturning cars and severely beating three men inside the office compound before they were chased away by a man in civilian clothes who fired an assault rifle over their heads.
Mirza Muhammad Ali, the regional police chief, said 10 staffers for the power company were injured before armed colleagues drove the protesters back. He said three protesters were also hurt.
Police also fired guns into the air and tear gas canisters to disperse the protesters. Ali said they made almost 40 arrests.
Some protesters carried a banner inscribed “Constant load-shedding is our financial murder.”
“We are facing up to 20 hours load-shedding (daily), and about 500,000 loom workers and their families are facing starvation if the businesses are shut down,” said Khalid Sandhu, a leader of the All Pakistan Power Looms Association.
Pakistan is suffering growing power outages due to soaring demand and a lack of investment in generation capacity, crippling businesses and leaving ordinary citizens without even fans as the country heads toward the heat of summer.
A new government led by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, a Multan native, has pledged to address the shortfall. It has blamed the previous administration under President Pervez Musharraf for the neglect.
It has also warned that the outages will get worse before any new generating plants can come on line.