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Pakistan Rangers take control of Islamabad sit-in area after clashes kill six

The paramilitary forces moved in as the law and order situation deteriorated after police clashed with Islamist protestors who had been blocking key highways in Islamabad for over two weeks.

world Updated: Nov 26, 2017 20:18 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times, Islamabad
Pakistan Rangers,Islamabad,army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa
A passerby takes a selfie in front of a police prison van destroyed during clashes with police near the Faizabad junction in Islamabad on Sunday.(Reuters)

The Pakistan Rangers took control of the area occupied by anti-blasphemy protesters in Islamabad on Sunday while police and the Frontier Corps personnel were deployed in other parts of the city, Radio Pakistan reported, as peace gradually returned to the capital and other cities after a day of violent clashes left at least six people dead.

The paramilitary forces moved in as the law and order situation deteriorated when police clashed with the radical Islamist protesters who had been blocking key highways in Islamabad for over two weeks, demanding the resignation of the law minister.

Though security personnel deployed around the venue of the sit-in vastly outnumbered the protestors, weak planning on the part of the authorities and guerilla tactics from the demonstrators helped turn the tables on law enforcement personnel.

The Rangers also cordoned off the IJP Road, Expressway, Murree Road and the Faisal Avenue, the main thoroughfares of Islamabad, giving the impression that the force has taken over the city, local media reported.

Protesters remained at the sit-in site on the outskirts of Islamabad in defiance of the government action a day earlier. There is no traffic movement in the area of I-8 and Faizabad that border Islamabad’s twin city of Rawalpindi.

Earlier in the day, there were clashes between the protestors and law enforcement, with at least one car and five motorcycles set on fire. Islamabad police used tear gas to disperse the mob.

Some normalcy returned to intercity travel as the government opened the M1 motorway leading to Islamabad from Peshawar. However, Motorway M2 near Chakri and Pindi Bhattian was closed for travellers.

The country’s top military and civilian leadership held a meeting on Sunday as the army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa cut short a trip to UAE and returned home.

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi chaired a consultative meeting on the Faizabad operation, which was attended by Gen Bajwa, director general of Interservices Intelligence Naveed Mukhtar, Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif and interior minister Ahsan Iqbal.

The role of the army came under discussion but so far the military has stayed away from the issue.

Hours after the government called the army for help, the General Headquarters asked for ‘clarifications’ on a few matters before they stepped in.

In a statement, the army noted that the police have not been “optimally utilised” while dealing with the protesters belonging to the newly formed organisation Tehreek-e-Labbaik.

It said the Rangers have not been given written instructions for their deployment in contrast to the agreement that such an order would be required. Citing the Islamabad High Court order, the statement also said that the court had barred the use of firearms against the protestors and calling the army implies the use of force. The statement then asked for a clarification on these matters.

The army chief had called on the prime minister on Saturday to advise him against the use of power on the protestors.

In a tweet, Maj-Gen Asif Ghafoor, the chief of Pakistan Army’s public relations wing, had said that violence would be against national interest, and quoted Gen Bajwa as saying that the issue should be resolved peacefully.

The Punjab government has also ordered all educational institutions to remain closed for the next two days owing to the law and order situation in the province.

The Pakistan Goods Transporters Association has complained that police and administration have seized a number of containers from its members. Police seized containers across Punjab to create blockades to prevent protests.

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First Published: Nov 26, 2017 18:16 IST