Pakistan army descends on Islamabad as anti-blasphemy protests rage on

Violet Powell
November 29, 2017

But the protesters still demand the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid for his alleged role in the controversy, Dawn online reported.

Though Pakistani military, a powerful force in the country, is yet to directly comment on the deployment, the interior minister said the decision was taken after the prime minister's approval.

Pakistan's government has called for troops to be deployed in the capital, Islamabad, after violence broke out during protests by Islamists.

However, as the police have not been issued instructions to take action against the protesters so far today, the latter's actions were not met with any retaliation by the forces. "We have orders just to contain them", Islamabad's Assistant City Police Commissioner Mohammad Ali said.

"Security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets but the demonstrators blocked roads and burned police vehicles around the site of the sit-in".

Throughout Sunday, baton-armed supporters of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Yah Rasool Allah Pakistan (TLYRAP) blocked several main highways, roads and arteries in major Pakistani cities, paralysing traffic and daily life.

The private Pakistan Broadcasting Association said the government should order cable service providers to restart television channels and their coverage of the protests.

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Numerous protesters were armed with sticks or metal rods, and some held riot shields snatched from the police during the unsuccessful operation to clear the area.

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.

As the clashes intensified, Pakistan's powerful military chief phoned the prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to urge the situation be handled "peacefully", military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said on Twitter.

Senior police officer Ismatullah Junejo said police were swiftly clearing the venue as some 300 protesters ignored the final warning to disperse.

Police lobbed tear gas canisters and deployed the water cannon while surrounding and arresting dozens of protesters who resisted by throwing rocks. The motorway between Rawalpindi and the eastern city of Lahore also was closed, as authorities feared more protesters might try to enter the city to support demonstrators in the capital. They confirmed six people were killed in clashes with police at the Islamabad rally. At least 150 people are believed to have been arrested. It is yet another example of how Islamist groups in Pakistan are now bent on exploiting the sectarian fault lines that have existed in the country for a long time for their own political gain.

Finally acting upon court orders, the Islamabad police, with the help of Frontier Constabulary (FC) personnel and other law enforcement agencies, had launched an operation against protesters, who had amassed at the Faizabad Interchange ─ which connects Islamabad to Rawalpindi ─ on November 8. The religious groups protesting belonged to the Barelvi sect of Islam that has strong ties to Sufism.

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