6 dead, 200 injured as Islamist protesters clash with Pakistan police for second day
The Pakistan police aided by paramilitary Rangers and Frontier Constabulary yesterday lunched a massive operation against activists of Tehreek-i-Khatm-i-Nabuwwat, Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah and Sunni Tehreek Pakistan religious groups who had blocked a key highway to Islamabad for nearly three weeksUpdated: Nov 26, 2017 14:38 IST
Islamist party activists on Sunday clashed with security forces for a second day on the outskirts of Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, burning vehicles before withdrawing to a protest camp they have occupied for more than two weeks, police said.
According media reports at least six people were killed on the previous day, when several thousand police and paramilitary tried to disperse a sit-in protest by the religious hard-liners, who have blocked the main route into the capital from the neighbouring garrison city of Rawalpindi.
More than 125 people were wounded in Saturday’s failed crackdown, and police superintendent Amir Niazi said 80 members of the security forces were among the casualties.
On Sunday morning, smoke billowed from the charred remains of a car and three motorcycles near the protest camp, where several thousand members of the Tehreek-e-Labaid party have gathered in defiance.
Police and paramilitary forces had surrounded the camp in the Faizabad district between the two cities, but no army troops were on the scene, despite a call the night before by the civilian government for the military to help restore order.
“We will move when we have orders,” Niazi, the police superintendent, said on Saturday. “What the protesters did yesterday was in no means was lawful. They attacked our forces.”
Activists from Tehreek-e-Labaik have blocked the main road into the capital for two weeks, accusing the law minister of blasphemy against Islam and demanding his dismissal and arrest.
“We are in our thousands. We will not leave. We will fight until end,” Tehreek-e-Labaik party spokesman Ejaz Ashrafi told Reuters on Saturday.
Tehreek-e-Labaik is one of two new ultra-religious political movements that became prominent in recent months.
While Islamist parties are unlikely to win a majority they could play a major role in elections that must be held by summer next year.
Tehreek-e-Laibak was born out of a protest movement lionizing Mumtaz Qadri, a bodyguard of the governor of Punjab province who gunned down his boss in 2011 over his call to reform strict blasphemy laws.
The party won a surprisingly strong 7.6 percent of the vote in a by-election in Peshawar last month.
The Interior Ministry last night issued a statutory regulatory order to authorize the deployment of the army to control the law and order situation in the capital.
Official sources said Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa are expected to hold a meeting to discuss the situation after the government sought deployment of the army in the capital.
However, the army said it needed clarification on some points before moving in to control the situation.
General Bajwa was on a visit to the United Arab Emirates and cut short his trip to reach the country last night.
Earlier, he spoke to Abbasi over telephone and suggested to handle the protests peacefully “avoiding violence from both sides as it is not in national interest and cohesion.”
Meanwhile, all news channels have been off-air and access to popular social media blocked since yesterday.
Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) representing electronic media condemned the action against media.
The protesters have been laying siege to the capital for about three weeks demanding removal of Law Minister Zahid Hamid for changes in a law related to the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat (finality of prohpethood) oath in the Elections Act 2017.
They alleged the action undermined Islamic beliefs and linked it to blasphemy. The government has already amended the law and restored the original oath but the hardline clerics refused to call of the protests until the minister is sacked.
The unrest also spread to several cities where protesters have blocked major roads, resulting in clashes with police. Dozens of people were injured in Karachi and at other places.
Minister of Interior Ahsan Iqbal chaired a high-level security meeting on Friday night but failed to reach at any decision about further operation as senior officials of Islamabad administration and police warned to loss of human lives, according to sources in the interior ministry.
The protesters emboldened by failure of government upped the ante and demanded resignation of the government, according to report on Geo TV website.
There are reports that ruling Pakistan Muslims Leauge- Nawaz was discussing the option of removing law minister to pacify the protests. But it may be too late now. The minister is already under immense pressure after an attack yesterday at his residence in Pasroor area of Sialkot district in Punjab.
Opposition Tehreek-e-Insaf have also increased pressure on government and its secretary general Jehangir Tareen demanded resignation of interior minister for mishandling the operation.