• Friday, Oct 30, 2020
  • Last Update : 10:12 pm

Pakistan's army silent as Islamists, police clash again

  • Published at 08:28 pm November 26th, 2017
Pakistan's army silent as Islamists, police clash again

Islamist party activists on Sunday clashed with Pakistani security forces for a second day outside the capital, Islamabad, burning vehicles before withdrawing into an uneasy stand-off at a protest camp they have occupied for two weeks, police said.

Despite orders from the civilian government to the army on Saturday night to help restore order, no troops were at the scene around the protest camp in Faizabad, on the outskirts of the capital, witnesses said.

The military's press department did not respond to queries about the government's order.

According to media reports at least six people were killed on the previous day, when several thousand police and paramilitary forces tried to disperse the religious hardliners, who have blocked the main route into the capital demanding that the law minister be fired for committing blasphemy.

At least 150 people were wounded in Saturday's clashes, hospitals reported, and police superintendent Amir Niazi said 80 members of the security forces were among those casualties.

Throughout Sunday, baton-armed supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labaik party blocked several main highways, roads and arteries in major Pakistani cities, paralysing traffic and daily life.

Smoke billowed from the charred remains of a car and three motorcycles burned that morning near the Faizabad protest camp, where several thousand Tehreek-e-Labaik activists have gathered in defiance of the government.

After the early morning clashes, the area settled into an uneasy stand-off. The paramilitary Rangers force - which had held back from Saturday's confrontation - was in charge of Sunday's operations, officers said.

"We still don't have orders to launch an operation. We will act as the government orders us," said Rangers commander at the scene Colonel Bilal, who gave only one name. "We have surrounded the protesters from all sides. We can move in when the government orders us."

Failed crackdown

Activists from Tehreek-e-Labaik have blocked the main road into the capital for two weeks, accusing the law minister of blasphemy over a wording change in electoral law the party says weakens the Islamic tenet of Mohammad as God's final prophet.

"We will not leave. We will fight until end," Tehreek-e-Labaik party spokesman Ejaz Ashrafi said on Saturday.

Led by cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, Labaik is one of two new ultra-religious political movements that became prominent in recent months. Labaik, which campaigns on defending Pakistan's strict blasphemy laws, won a surprisingly strong 6% and 7.6% of the vote in two recent by-elections.

While Islamist parties are unlikely to win a majority they could play a major role in elections that must be held by the summer of next year.

By Sunday afternoon, private TV stations that had been ordered off the air the day before were broadcasting again. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube remained blocked in many areas.

After Saturday's failed crackdown by police, the government called for military assistance "for law and order duty according to the constitution."

However, there has been no public statement from the military in response and no sign that any troops had left their barracks.

 
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