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1 cop dies, TV channels ordered off air as Pakistan cracks down on Islamist protests

Over 100 people have been wounded as Pakistani forces fired rubber bullets and lobbed tear gas in a bid to disperse an Islamist sit-in that has virtually paralysed the country’s capital for weeks.

world Updated: Nov 25, 2017 22:46 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times, Islamabad
Islam,Islamist protests,Pakistan
A Pakistani police officer aims his gun towards the protesters next to a burning police vehicle during a clash in Islamabad on November 25.(AP photo)

One policeman died and over 100 people were injured as Pakistan cracked down on radical Islamist protestors in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, and imposed a gag order on TV channels covering the spiralling violence.

The government on Saturday asked all news channels to suspend live broadcast as protests against a police operation earlier in the day in Islamabad spread to other cities, with fears that the situation could turn into a major law and order problem. Social media networks including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were also blocked in various parts of the country.

The army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa talked to Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and urged for peaceful solution to the problem.

Islamabad and Karachi were most affected by the violence, and till Saturday evening it was unclear who had the upper hand, with the government claiming its operation had been successful while supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik insisted they continued to protest and cause disruption in different parts of the country.

Karachi’s main thoroughfare, the Sharare Faisal, has been blocked at different spots.

It is feared that protests will continue on Sunday as well. Tehreek-e-Labbaik spokesperson Ejaz Ashrafi told the media over telephone that supporters of the movement were in their thousands. “We will not leave. We will fight until the end,” he said.

Pakistan’s interior minister Ahsan Iqbal claimed that the protestors had “contacted India”, and the government was investigating “why they did it”, without giving further details about his claim.

“We can see that they have various resources at their disposal. They have fired teargas shells [at security forces], they also cut the fibre-optic cables of cameras monitoring their protest...They have inside information and resources that are being used against the state,” he told Dawn News network.

More than 8,500 police and paramilitary personnel took part in the Islamabad operation earlier in the day to dislodge the protestors who had blocked the Faizabad interchange, one of the Pakistani capital’s busiest traffic intersections, for almost 20 days.

Officials said the operation had achieved 90% success, adding that some of the protestors took to the streets and caused mayhem in different parts of Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

TV channels reported that the police operation was suspended by evening, but there was no official confirmation of this.

The protesters want the resignation of law minister Zahid Hamid for altering the declaration of lawmakers with regard to Finality of the Prophethood – a change which the government has already reversed.

Government hospitals continued to receive wounded persons, mostly police personnel, as fighting continued between protestors and police personnel throughout he day.

It is estimated that more than 500 people were admitted to different hospitals in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

The Islamabad police, with the help of Frontier Constabulary (FC) personnel and other law enforcement agencies, launched the operation against protesters after the last of a long series of deadlines lapsed this morning without response from the agitators.

An Islamabad police spokesman confirmed that a policeman was killed in the clash with protesters after he was struck in the head by a rock.

Protesters hurls back a tear gas shell fired by police during a clash in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Saturday. ( AP Photo )

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) warned against live coverage of the Faizabad sit-in, stating that under the Electronic Media Code of Conduct 2015, live coverage of any security operation was prohibited.

TV channels were advised to exhibit utmost sensitivity regarding the matter and refrain from live coverage. Following the PEMRA order, there has been a media blackout across the country where almost all leading private TV channels went off-air. Unconfirmed reports suggest that mobile cellular networks will also be suspended any time soon.

Several vehicles were burnt as protesters, who had dispersed in smaller lanes and congested areas, regrouped and pushed back.

Smoke and tear gas filled the air as police and paramilitary troops in riot gear were seen throwing rocks and using slingshots in a bid to clear 2,000 or so hardline demonstrators.

Dr Altaf from the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) said that no major injuries were reported. “Most of the injuries are minor, but we have a number of fracture cases.”

Protestors were being egged on by their leaders who conveyed through loudspeakers that policemen should be targeted as this would earn them “sawab”.

Prime Minister Abbasi went into a close huddle with other party members to try and see how the issue could be resolved.

A Pakistani protester from the Tehreek-i-Labaik Yah Rasool Allah Pakistan (TLYRAP) religious group runs past a burning tent during a clash with police in Islamabad on November 25, 2017. ( AFP Photo )

As the Thursday deadline given by the Islamabad high court expired, the civilian law enforcement agencies went into action. In the past, the government had consistently bought time to negotiate with protesters.

(With inputs from agencies)

First Published: Nov 25, 2017 14:28 IST