Pakistan power cut riots spread as politician’s house stormed
Rioting and looting sparked by power cuts of up to 20 hours a day run into their third day in several parts of Pakistan
The house of a Pakistani politician was stormed by thousands of rioters on Tuesday during an eruption of public fury at the government’s inability to maintain electricity supplies during sweltering summer conditions.
The attack on the home of Riaz Fatiyana, a member of the ruling coalition, came on the third consecutive day of rioting, looting and violent protests in several parts of the country.
Fatiyana said the police did nothing to stop the assault on his property in Kamaliya, a town in Punjab, a province that has been particularly badly hit by power riots. His own guards opened fire into the crowd, however, killing two people.
Elsewhere in the country protesters torched police vans, attacked banks and looted shops.
Pakistan has suffered severe electricity shortages and power riots in recent years. Both problems, however, appear to be getting worse as the cash-strapped government sinks into ever greater debt, making it impossible to pay electricity providers.
With no alternative but to turn off supplies for up to 20 hours a day, ordinary people who cannot afford expensive diesel generators to power their electric fans are left to swelter.
Farooq Tariq, a social activist in Lahore, said huge numbers of people in the city have been forced into bathing in canals because they are unable to either cool themselves or pump washing water from ground wells.
“You see thousands of people using the dirty water of the canal because there is no other option,” he said.
“We have never experienced this sort of massive load shedding before in Pakistan. It’s unprecedented.”
In April, a 19-year-old woman fell into a coma in a Lahore hospital because a power cut during an operation to remove her appendix shut off her oxygen supply.
Other problems include the spoiling of frozen food and the crippling of industrial production, including in Pakistan’s vital textile sector.
The government has sought to give the impression that it has the situation under control. On Tuesday prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, speaking before the supreme court disqualified him from office, announced a high-powered “energy conference” of top officials. It would have been the eighth such event in 14 months, but critics say they lead to no substantial changes.
Economists say there is very little the government can do, given the country’s dire fiscal position.
Pictured: Pakistani protesters attend a rally condemning summer power cuts in Lahore. Photograph: K M Chaudary/AP