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Pakistani police, paramilitary troops crack down on protests by religious groups

Plain-clothes Pakistani police officers carry an injured protester during a clash in Islamabad on November 25, 2017. Police have launched an operation to clear an intersection linking the capital with the garrison city of Rawalpindi where supporters of religious groups are camping for the last 20 days seeking the Law Minister Zahid Hamid’s resignation over a controversial constitutional amendment.

Plain-clothes Pakistani police officers carry an injured protester during a clash in Islamabad on November 25, 2017. Police have launched an operation to clear an intersection linking the capital with the garrison city of Rawalpindi where supporters of religious groups are camping for the last 20 days seeking the Law Minister Zahid Hamid’s resignation over a controversial constitutional amendment.   | Photo Credit: AP

Demonstrators want Law Minister Zahid Hamid to quit over a controversial constitutional amendment that replaced the oath for the minority Qadiani sect.

Police and paramilitary troops on Saturday cracked down on a protest by religious groups at a major entry point to Islamabad that has been blocked for the last 20 days. Scores were reportedly injured and one policeman was killed in the clash. The religious groups belong to the majority Barelvi sect of Islam.

The protesters are demanding the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid over a controversial amendment in the Constitution where the oath for the minority Qadiani sect was replaced. Though the government and Parliament had withdrawn the amendment, religious parties are still clamouring for Mr. Hamid’s resignation.

As negotiations between the protesters and the authorities broke down on Friday night, thousands of policemen and paramilitary troops teargassed the protesters and burnt their camps at Faizabad.

Life across country hit

As the news spread, followers of the groups led by the newly-formed Labbaik Pakistan — a religious party — came out on the streets in various cities and staged sit-ins crippling life across the country. Thousands of people were stranded on the roads as protesters went on the rampage, torching police vehicles, petrol pumps, metro stations and tyres.

A source in the Interior Ministry said strict orders have been issued to the law enforcement agencies not to open fire on any protester.

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi ordered blackout of TV channels. The authorities have also blocked access to Twitter and Facebook.

Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) has banned live coverage of Faizabad operation.

According to military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor, Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa telephoned Mr. Abbasi and discussed the operation. “COAS telephoned PM suggested to handle Islamabad dharna peacefully avoiding violence from both sides as it is not in national interest,” the spokesman said on Twitter.

Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal has said the government will not bow down before the protesters. “We have been given orders by the High Court to conduct the operation and we will restore the state’s writ. The religious groups are using religion to further their political ambitions,” he told state-run Pakistan Television.

'Protesters contacted India'

PTI reports:

Separately, in an interview to Dawn News, Mr.  Iqbal claimed that the hardline religious parties had "contacted India," and the government was investigating "why they did it."

"We are looking into it. They have inside information and resources that are being used against the state."

Mr. Iqbal did not give any details about his claim. He said the hundreds of protesters gathered in the national capital were “not simple people."

“We can see that they have various resources at their disposal. They have fired teargas shells [at security forces], they also cut the fibre-optic cables of cameras monitoring their protest,” he told the network.

 

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 9:36:51 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/pakistani-police-troops-crack-down-on-protests-by-religious-groups/article20904673.ece

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