ISLAMABAD: Protesters have started gathering at the Faizabad Interchange in Islamabad again following the government’s suspension of its crackdown against them, launched Saturday morning, for the last two hours.
Thousands of security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets as the demonstrators blocked roads and burned police vehicles around the site of the sit-in, which has virtually paralysed the capital for nearly three weeks.
At least 139 injured people have been taken to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in Islamabad, a spokesperson from the hospital said, adding that 93 of them were members of the security forces. Police have confirmed that at least two protesters are dead.
Television footage showed police officials surrounding the sit-in area and firing tear gas shells in a bid to disperse the protesters belonging to the Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakistan (TLYRAP). The protesters also retaliated by hurling stones and bricks at the law enforcers.
The protesters, who before Saturday numbered some 2,000 people, are demanding that federal law minister Zahid Hamid resign over a hastily-abandoned amendment to the oath that election candidates must swear.
“We are in our thousands. We will not leave. We will fight until the end,” Tehreek-e-Labaik spokesperson Ejaz Ashrafi told Reuters by telephone from the scene.
Smoke and tear gas filled the air in the ongoing, hours-long bid by some 8,500 police as well as paramilitary Rangers and Frontier Corps forces to clear the demonstrators, which began soon after dawn.
Fresh protests were also springing up in other cities, including Karachi, Lahore, Gujranwala and Sialkot.
Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the man leading the Faizabad protest. PHOTO: EXPRESS
As the clashes intensified, army chief general Qamar Bajwa phoned Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to urge the situation be handled “peacefully,” DG ISPR Major General Asif Ghafoor said on Twitter.
The COAS called for both sides to avoid violence “as it is not in national interest”.
Media blackout following crackdown
Media regulator PEMRA barred local TV channels from broadcasting live images from the scene as violence intensified. Following the order, however, there has been a media blackout across the country where almost all leading private TV channels went off-air.
MEDIA COVERAGE OF SIT-IN AT FAIZ-E-ABAD, ISLAMABAD pic.twitter.com/YqEGTWpFIR
— Report PEMRA (@reportpemra) November 25, 2017
Social media networks including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were also blocked in varying parts of the country.
Protesters attack and injure PML-N MNA Javed Latif
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) MNA Mian Javed Latif was injured in an attack in Sheikhupura on Saturday by men protesting against the crackdown on the Faizabad sit-in.
The lawmaker from NA-133 (Sheikhupura) was in the Batti Chowk area to negotiate with the protesters, Express News reported.
Several men affiliated with a religious group also attacked the residence of Hamid in his hometown of Pasrur, Sialkot district.
The protesters broke into and ransacked the minister’s haveli. They shattered windows and damaged furniture. The minister, however, is in Islamabad.