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Pakistani government given 3 days to clear rally

Interior Minister seeks more time to end Islamabad’s siege

Image Credit: AP
Supporters of a Pakistani radical religious party shout slogans during a sit-in protest at an intersection of Islamabad, Pakistan.
Gulf News

Islamabad: A Pakistani court has granted the government three more days to find a way to clear a hardline Islamist rally near the capital, Islamabad.

Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said on Monday that he pleaded with the court, saying that any use of force could cause “instability” in the country.

Two previous deadlines given to the rally organisers — the Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah party — have expired.

The rally began two weeks ago. The Islamists demand the removal of Law Minister Zahid Hamid over a recently omitted reference to the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) in a constitutional bill.

The protesters have camped out at a main intersection outside Islamabad, disrupting life in the city. The court has issued notices to administration for Thursday on non-compliance of earlier order for clearance of the intersection.

Iqbal on Monday asked for more time to end the more than two-week long siege of the capital Islamabad by some 2,000 protesters belonging to hardline religious groups who have been demanding the resignation of the country’s law minister.

The activists of Tehreek-e-Khatm-e-Nabuwwat, Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) and the Sunni Tehreek Pakistan (ST) have been blocking the Islamabad Expressway and Murree Road at Faizabad interchange that connect Islamabad with its only airport and the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

The protesters demand the resignation of law minister Zahid Hamid for changes made about Khatm-e-Nabuwwat or finality of prophethood oath in the Elections Act 2017 passed in September.

Iqbal was summoned by Islamabad High Court (IHC) judge Shaukat Siddiqui for failing to implement orders on Friday to clear the roads within 24 hours.

The judge in the hearing admonished the administration and ordered that notices be issued to secretary interior, chief commissioner, inspector general and deputy commissioner for failing to carry out court orders.

Iqbal requested for more time to deal with the issue peacefully.

The court observed that it was responsibility of the state to ensure right of common citizen and protesters were causing serious problems for students, patients and others.

Later, the judge adjourned the hearing till Thursday and asked that the issue should be resolved by the next hearing.

Iqbal told media after the hearing that the court orders would be implemented and the protesters removed before the November 23 deadline set by the court.

He said he had ordered the police to delay operation to give talks with clerics another chance to succeed.

“A meeting has been summoned in afternoon (Monday) with all clerics of Islam’s leading schools of thought to end the crisis. I hope to find a peaceful solution in next 24-48 hours,” he said.

The government has deployed hundreds of security personnel in riot gear to take action against the protesters but has been dilly-dallying to take action due to fear of backlash from the extremists.

However, it already buckled under pressure and restored the oath to its original form last week after National Assembly passed the amendment in the Elections Act 2017.

The government also offered to send law minister on leave or change his portfolio but the protesters rejected it and refused to disperse until the minister was removed.

Commuters continue to face severe problems with traffic jams on different roads.

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