Pakistanis protest electricity cuts during Ramadan



Pakistanis gather near a power station during a protest against power cuts in the Dargai area of Malakand District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, on May 29. The protests turned violent as crippling electricity cuts left hundreds of thousands of people without power in soaring temperatures during the first two days of the holy fasting month of Ramadan. [AFP]

PESHAWAR -- Violent protests erupted in Pakistan Monday (May 29) as crippling electricity cuts left hundreds of thousands of people without power in soaring temperatures during the first two days of Ramadan.

At least one person was killed and eight wounded in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after police opened fire on hundreds of people protesting the cuts by trying to set a power station ablaze, officials said.

"The protesters first tried to torch the electricity power station, and then they attacked a police station," Deputy Commissioner of Malakand District Zafar Ali Shah told AFP.

The demonstrators also attacked government buildings, offices and vehicles, he said.

Protesters later blocked a main highway linking Malakand and the Swat Valley to the rest of the country, Shah added, saying that authorities are negotiating with local leaders to defuse the demonstrations.

In Peshawar, 800 protesters took over two power stations, demanding government employees continue the electricity supply without interruption.

Longtime struggles with power cuts

Pakistan has for years been struggling to provide enough power for its almost 200 million citizens. Its chronic energy crisis sees daily power outages that are amplified in the summer heat -- and by the month of daylight fasting by Muslims.

Residents in Peshawar said they face cuts for six to eight hours a day, while rural areas can receive electricity for as little as three to four hours a day.

Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif has vowed to solve the crisis by 2018, when elections must be held.

On Monday he said that "minimum load-shedding" should be carried out during Ramadan.

Temperatures, and tempers, soar

Temperatures in Pakistan touched near-record highs over the weekend.

On Sunday (May 28) angry residents burned tyres in the roads in the sweltering port city of Karachi after a massive power outage in southern Pakistan.

Water distribution -- already unreliable in the megacity of some 25 million people -- is reliant on the electricity supply, leaving thousands unable to drink, cook or wash.

Authorities said the power outage extended to more than a dozen districts in southern Sindh Province, of which Karachi is the capital, where temperatures topped 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).

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