Eight people were killed in continuing clashes today between supporters of influential Pakistani cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri and security forces with over 1,000 injured across Punjab province, the Canada-based religious leader's party claimed.
Qadri's Pakistan Awami Tahreek party (PAT) has claimed that eight of its workers including a woman died in clashes with police while the Punjab government says an Elite Force commando and one supporter of Qadri were killed in the clashes across the province.
"I only confirm one death of a PAT worker. A police commando also died during clashes," Punjab Law Minister Rana Mashhood told PTI.
Earlier, Punjab police had confirmed the death of four people in the clashes.
Fighting between security forces and supporters of Qadri, who has vowed to lead a "revolution" against the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, began yesterday and continued today as police blocked roads to Lahore to stop the religious leader's planned rally against the government.
Qadri has said that his group will hold a "Martyrs' Day" tomorrow in protest against the killing of 14 of his activists in a police attack at his party headquarters on June 17.
He has said that he will also announce the date for his 'Inqlabi March' tomorrow.
The clashes broke out yesterday when Qadri's supporters tried to remove containers used by police as roadblocks to prevent them from reaching the cleric's residence.
"Our eight party workers were killed in the police brutality. Today, six workers of PAT were killed when police opened fire on them in Gujranwala district while two died yesterday in Bhakkar district," PAT spokesman Qazi Faiz said.
Qadri also put the death toll of his supporters at eight.
Faiz said police have blocked all roads leading to Lahore to stop PAT caravans.
"Police have arrested over 6,000 workers of our party across Punjab so far. The police are also picking up women from their houses," he alleged.
At least 155 policemen were also injured in clashes with PAT workers, Punjab police spokesperson Nabila Ghazanfar said.
Ghazanfar said that PAT workers attacked policemen, tore their uniforms and torched their helmets and vehicles.
She said police have arrested over 500 PAT workers in Punjab today. In Lahore, the PAT workers took seven policemen hostage who were freed after negotiations with the police.
"We have freed the policemen after assurance that they would not perform their duties to stop Qadri sahib's supporters from reaching here," Faiz said.
Today's clashes erupted when police stopped a large number of PAT workers at Gujranwala, some 80 kilometres from Lahore.
When police fired teargas shells and used batons to disperse Qadri's supporters, fierce clashes erupted, killing five persons, including a woman.
Canada-based Qadri returned to Pakistan in June and is now leading a movement to oust the Nawaz Sharif government.
Yesterday, Qadri's supporters set a police station on fire in Qauidabad, Khushab district, some 300 kilometres from Lahore.
They also clashed with police in Dipalur in Okara district, 200 kms from here, that left over a dozen injured.
In Lahore, the clashes erupted when the PAT activists tried to remove the containers from the roads leading to Qadri's residence in Model Town.
In the clashes, 10 PAT workers and seven policemen were injured.
Police have placed over 100 containers on Lahore roads leading to the headquarters of PAT in Model Town.
Qadri said that the PML-N government had "turned Model Town into Gaza" by blocking supply of food and water there.
"The Sharifs are fascist rulers and worst than a dictator. I appeal to my supporters to come out of their houses and reach here by removing all blockades," he said.
"The Shahbaz-government is resorting to state-terrorism," he said and claimed the Sharif family would be out of power soon and the US will be their next destination in exile.
Qadri has vowed to hold the Lahore rally at any cost.