Pakistanis clash with police over gas shortages

January 3, 2012 - 7:12 AM
Pakistan Energy Crisis

People thread their way through concrete slabs used by protesters to block the main highway in Peshawar, Pakistan, to protest against the lack of transport on Monday, Jan. 2, 2012. Countrywide protests and strikes caused disruption across many cities as people protested against price hikes in gas and petroleum products. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistanis angry at gas shortages blocked a major highway and clashed with police for the second day on Tuesday, adding pressure on a government bogged down by scandal, near economic collapse and militant violence.

Natural gas, which is used widely in Pakistan for heating, cooking and to fuel cars and buses, has been in short supply since winter began. Rolling electricity cuts are also routine.

The situation has exposed the perilous state of the country's finances and the inability of the state to provide even basic services.

Hundreds of protesters on Tuesday hurled stones at police on the main highway linking the capital Islamabad to the nearby garrison city of Rawalpindi. Police responded by firing plastic bullets. There were no reports of serious injuries. There were also rowdy protests in at least two other cities.

The same highway was blocked for most of Monday, when protesters torched three vehicles.

President Asif Ali Zardari is threatened by a scandal that has exacerbated tensions between the government and the army, which is a major power in the country.

The scandal centers on a memo allegedly written on the direction of Husain Haqqani, the country's former ambassador to the United States, that was delivered to Washington last year. The memo asks for American help in stopping a supposed army coup. Haqqani, who denies any involvement, was forced to resign.

The country is also facing a relentless insurgency by al-Qaida and Taliban militants.

Also Tuesday, a bomb exploded outside an Internet cafe in the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing one person and wounding four, said Provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain. It was unclear why the cafe was targeted, but in the past, extremists have threatened such establishments because customers use them to look at pornography.