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Pakistan Calls On Army To Restore Security In Capital: Interior Ministry

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Pakistan Calls On Army To Restore Security In Capital: Interior Ministry

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Islamabad: 
The Pakistani government has called on the powerful military to deploy in the capital Islamabad after violence broke out Saturday when security forces attempted to disperse an Islamist sit-in, the interior ministry said.

The request was made by Islamabad Capital Territory authorities, according to an interior ministry order, which said the federal government had authorised the deployment of “sufficient troops” to “control law and order” in the city until further notice.

There was no immediate comment from military officials.

The order came after Pakistani police clashed violently with hardline religious protesters in Islamabad Saturday, leaving at least one person dead and more than 130 injured.

Police were attempting to clear a small protest by the little-known hardline group called Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakistan (TLYRAP) that has blocked a main highway into Islamabad since November 6, causing hours-long traffic snarls and enraging citizens. 

Authorities had hesitated for days to act against the demonstrators, fearing violence, but thousands of security forces began attempts to clear the protest just after dawn on Saturday.

They fired tear gas and rubber bullets as the demonstrators blocked roads and burned police vehicles around the site of the sit-in. Protests also broke out in the major cities of Lahore and Karachi, as well as smaller town across the country.

The Pakistani government has authorised the powerful military to deploy troops to secure the capital Islamabad after violence broke out today when security officials attempted to disperse a sit-in, the interior ministry said.

The request was made by Islamabad Capital Territory authorities, according to an interior ministry order, which said the federal government had authorised the deployment of “sufficient troops” to “control law and order” in the city until further notice.

At least one person has been been killed, more than 130 injured and small demonstrations are spreading to other cities.

Thousands of security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets as the demonstrators blocked roads and burned police vehicles around the site of the sit-in, which has choked a main highway and virtually paralysed the capital for nearly three weeks.

An Islamabad police spokesman confirmed that a policeman was killed in the fighting after he was struck in the head by a rock, and an AFP journalist saw what appeared to be the body of at least one demonstrator lying on the road in the capital.

At least 139 injured people have been taken to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in Islamabad, a spokesman from the hospital told AFP, adding that 93 of them were members of the security forces. 

The sit-in by the little-known hardline group called Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakistan (TLYRAP) has blocked the main road into the capital used by thousands of commuters since November 6, causing hours-long traffic snarls and enraging commuters.

The protesters, who before today numbered some 2,000 people, are demanding that Pakistan’s law minister Zahid Hamid resign over a hastily-abandoned amendment to the oath that election candidates must swear.
 

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Pakistani riot police chase protesters from Tehreek-e-Labaik group in Islamabad (AFP)

Demonstrators have linked it to blasphemy — a highly contentious issue in Pakistan — and claim the oath was softened to enable the participation of Ahmadis, a long-persecuted minority sect.

The protesters come from the Barelvi sect of Islam that has strong ties to Sufism — a mystical branch of the religion that is seen as moderate.

However the execution in 2016 of Barelvi follower Mumtaz Qadri — who assassinated liberal Punjab governor Salman Taseer over his stance on the country’s blasphemy laws — led members of the group to take a more hardline stance against any moves to reform the legislation.

“These people already had a grudge against the government and the government just provided them the opportunity to vent out their anger,” said political analyst Hasan Askari.     

Smoke and tear gas filled the air in the ongoing, hours-long bid by some 8,500 police as well as paramilitary Rangers and Frontier Corps forces to clear the demonstrators, which began soon after dawn. 

AFP reporters at the site said dozens more demonstrators were arriving.
 

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A protester of Tehreek-i-Labaik Yah Rasool Allah Pakistan shouts slogans during the clash (AFP)

Fresh protests were also springing up in other cities. Police in Karachi said some 200 protesters were blockading a major road in the southern port, with at least nine injured people — including three with gunshot wounds — brought to hospital, according to doctors.

Markets and shops were closing in the megacity, Pakistan’s commercial hub, as alarmed residents stayed inside while clerics called for more demonstrators to come out.

Smaller demonstrations were breaking out in Lahore and other cities, according to local media.

As the clashes intensified, Pakistan’s powerful military chief phoned Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to urge the situation be handled “peacefully,” military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said on Twitter. 

General Qamar Javed Bajwa called for both sides to avoid violence “as it is not in national interest”.
 

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A policeman walks towards demonstrators near Faizabad junction in Islamabad (Reuters)

Pakistan’s media regulator barred local TV channels from broadcasting live images from the scene, though protesters were still using Facebook Live and other social media.

Bungled response

Authorities have hesitated to act against the sit-in, citing fears of violence as the demonstrators have vowed to die for their cause.

But their weeks of inaction have sparked the wrath of residents as well as Pakistan’s judiciary, with the Supreme Court issuing a blistering statement earlier in the week and the Islamabad High Court threatening to hold officials in contempt.
 

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A Pakistani riot policeman throws a rock toward protesters of the religious group (AFP)

The sit-in had previously cost the life of an eight-year-old child whose ambulance could not reach a hospital in time due to the blocked roads.

Analysts and critics have accused the government of bungling its response to the protest, and allowing a minor issue to grow into a headline-grabbing and potentially dangerous situation.

“Politically driven procrastination has its own costs and this is what the government is paying,” analyst Imtiaz Gul told AFP.

The government delays had “allowed all like-minded people to organise and prepare for the protests,” he said, adding that whether or not the government is forced to ask for military aid “it has already become explosive”.
 

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