Islamabad: A security person was killed and over 150 others were injured on Saturday in Pakistan during clashes which broke out after police and paramilitary forces launched an operation to disperse hundreds of protesters.
The clashes began on Saturday when police launched an operation, involving some 4,000 officers, to disperse around 1,000 activists from Tehreek-e-Labaik, a new hard-line Islamist political party, and break up their camp, police official Saood Tirmizi told Reuters.
Dozens of protesters were arrested, Tirmizi said, and a hospital reported at least 27 people were being treated for injuries. The mass protest, plus the recent gains of two new Islamist parties in Pakistan, demonstrated the religious right’s gathering strength ahead of what are expected to be tumultuous elections next year.
Television footage showed smoke billowing and fires burning in the streets as officers in heavy riot gear advanced. Protesters, some wearing gas masks, fought back in scattered battles across empty highways and surrounding neighbourhoods.
“We are in our thousands. We will not leave. We will fight until end,” Tehreek-e-Labaik party spokesman Ejaz Ashrafi told Reuters by telephone from the scene.
The protesters have paralysed daily life in the capital, and have defied court orders to disband, demanding that the minister of law fired.
Tehreek-e-Labaik blames the minister, Zahid Hamid, for changes to an electoral oath that it says amounts to blasphemy. The government puts the issue down to a clerical error.
“Death to blasphemers” is a central rallying cry for Tehreek-e-Laibak, which was born out of a protest movement lionizing Mumtaz Qadri, a bodyguard of the governor of Punjab province who gunned down his boss in 2011 over his call to reform strict blasphemy laws.
The party, which advocates strict rule by Islamic Sharia law, won a surprisingly strong 7.6 per cent of the vote in a by-election in Peshawar last month.
Earlier, IHC last Friday had given a 24-hour deadline to the government to clear the roads which was later extended till Thursday.