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MAO College turns into battlefield

Student gangs exchange fire over 'MAO control'
Lahore, April 29, 2008: The tug of war between two student groups over getting 'control' of the MAO College turned ugly on Monday when they resorted to crossfire on the campus which lasted for well over two hours, fortunately injuring nobody.

The incident reminds one of bloody on-campus clashes among the rival 'student' groups to establish hegemony over educational institutions that led to student unions ban in early 1980s.

Hundreds of the students, including those taking their annual secondary school certificate examination at the college, were left terrorised when a gang of 30 to 40 people entered the college premises at about 8:40am and resorted to aerial firing. The members of a rival 'student' gang, who were present in the college hostel, retaliated the fire.

On hearing shots, the students loitering in the corridors or lawns of the college ran for their lives, while a couple of girl students reportedly fainted. The faculty members, however, kept their nerves and did not cancel the matriculation paper. However, the afternoon paper was conducted under police security.

An eyewitness said that four double-cabin vehicles carrying about three dozen armed men reached Lower Mall at around 8:40am. Two of the vehicles pulled up in front of the Sanda Road gate of the college, dropping over a dozen men there, while the remaining took the armed men to the main gate, he said. "The firing continued for two hours or so with brief intervals," he added. However, the both groups vanished in thin air before the police arrived, he said.

The terrified college students then gradually came out of the classrooms and translating their fear into anger took to the street, burning tyres in protest and chanting slogans against the warring factions. They thrashed one Bilal Azam on suspicion of having links with one of the groups. They also shouted slogans against the administration for failing to maintain peace in the college. They vowed to continue protest till the arrest of those responsible for Monday's incident.

"This is outrageous and intolerable. The atmosphere in the college had been quite tense for the last few days but the administration did not pay heed to the issue," said an MA Mass Communication girl student who wished not to be named. She said the administration should now carry out a thorough search in the hostels to purge the campus of gun culture.

The traffic remained suspended on the Lower Mall for several hours.

A source said the both groups were being backed by PML-N leaders. "A federal minister is backing Afzaal Gujar group while two powerful MPAs want their boys, led by one Tanvir Khan Khakwani, to get hold of the college," he maintained.

MAO College Principal Chaudhry Muhammad Khan said that ugly politics of controlling the campuses led to the incident. He said the previous administration had allowed the Muslim Student Federation (MSF) to set up their office on the campus. He said the students of this group had taken between Rs15,000 and Rs25,000 from 2,000 students for their admission in B.Com last year. The same group would also extort money from buses, wagons and rickshaws plying on roads around the college.

Prof Khan said at least 50 policemen would stay in the college till the elimination of the student wings. Such students would also be expelled from the college, he added.

The principal also announced that the institution would remain close for Tuesday and Wednesday.

The police claimed to have detained 10 students belonging to both the groups. Dawn

Examination: Students of Class 9 were in the college at the time, sitting for their annual mathematics examination. Hearing the gunshots, they panicked and the teachers locked the classroom doors. The students were given 15 extra minutes at the end to complete their papers. Many terrified parents also reached the college after getting the news of the firing.

Rizwan, a student, said he had not done his paper very well. He said, "The gunshots frightened all of us. How could we concentrate on the paper when guns were being fired outside."

Shafqat Butt, superintendent of the exam centre, said, "The situation was very frightening, but we told all the students to keep sitting and not to panic."

Hadia, a student of MA Mass Communication at MAO college, said, "Hundreds of students are studying at MAO college because they think it has a peaceful atmosphere, but the environment has been tense since the ban on student unions was lifted." She added that Monday's events were "horrifying". Irum, another student, said that when she reached the college, all she could hear were gunshots. She said she also saw police officials viewing the scene as spectators and doing nothing.

PMLN Additional Information Secretary Naeem Munir said he had also witnessed the incident. He said that neither the MSF nor MSF-Q had any links with the "drama" at the college. He said the PML-N did not support criminals. However, he said, the PML-N favoured the decision to lift the ban on students unions, but only if there is a strict code of conduct for them.

Opposition leader in the Provincial Assembly Chaudhry Raheel, a leader of the PML-Q, also denied any links with the two groups that "created the scene" at the MAO College. He said his party was against student unions and "would never protect them". Islampura Police has have registered a case against dozens of students. Daily Times
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