Pakistan calls in army to end anti-blasphemy protests

Aamir Qureshi—AFP

Aamir Qureshi—AFP

THE government on its end tried its level best to end Faizabad sit-in through peaceful means but keeping in view the difficulties of the people of Rawalpindi and Islamabad over the last twenty days due to government apathy and intransigence of the protestors, it was compelled to finally launch the operation to clear the area on Saturday in compliance with Islamabad High Court orders.

Local media reported that one police officer had been killed in the clashes, but a spokesman for Islamabad police, Naeem Iqbal, denied the accounts.

Since Nov. 8, protesters have blocked a major road between Islamabad and Rawalpindi to highlight their demand for the resignation of Law and Justice Minister Zahid Hamid because of legislation that would scale back requirements for lawmakers to mention the Islamic Prophet Muhammad.

The developments come hours after, amid tough resistance and nationwide protests, security forces suspended the crackdown on the Islamabad protesters, who had been blocking the main entrance from the city of Rawalpindi to the capital since early November. "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 DawnNews.

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The newspaper says 150 protesters were arrested as the operation kicked off.

Demonstrators have linked it to blasphemy - a highly contentious issue in Muslim Pakistan - and claim the oath was softened to enable the participation of Ahmadis, a minority group not considered Muslim by Pakistani law.

8500 police and paramilitary rangers and frontier corps were deployed to clear the demonstrators. Karachi Police said almost 200 protesters blocked a major road in the southern port.

By nightfall, small protests had spread to other cities, with gatherings and limited clashes reported from Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, as well as in Lahore, Gujranwala and Faisalabad.

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Twitter has been blocked in Pakistan.

Following the issuance of the notification, rumours started circulating on social media, suggesting that the SRO was false on the basis of typographical errors.

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

Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal is yet to take any decision for further action with regard to operation against Faizabad sit-in and countrywide protests occurring in reaction.

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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 unsafe situation.

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