At least four police officers were killed and hundreds more injured in massive clashes that erupted in northeast Pakistan’s Punjab province as law enforcement sought to stop an Islamist protest march on Islamabad.
The Chief Minister of Punjab, Usman Buzdar confirmed victims on Twitter on Wednesday, saying at least four officers were killed and more than 250 people injured. There, law enforcement encountered fierce resistance from members and supporters of the banned Islamist party Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) as police sought to disperse their march on the capital. .
The TLP orchestrated the protests, demanding the release of one of its leaders, Hafiz Saad Hussain Rizvi, detained since April. On Wednesday, he also accused the government of “layer” about a supposed deal with the party to end the protests.
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Other requests included “respect for the Holy Prophet” Mohammed and the expulsion of the French Ambassador to Pakistan following the publication of “blasphemous” caricatures of the prophet by the French satirical media Charlie Hebdo.
TLP members and their supporters used machine guns, AK-47 assault rifles and pistols against police, a Punjab police spokesman told Reuters.
Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed confirmed at a press conference that at least three officers were killed and 70 injured in the clashes, adding that eight are now in critical condition. He also said he was sending the Rangers – a federal paramilitary force – to the Punjab, adding that the local government could use the unit. “where he wants.”
Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said on Wednesday the government would now treat the party, banned in April, as a militant group and not as a political force. “There is a limit to the patience of the state”, he said, adding that while everyone has the right to express their ideas, no one can take up arms if those ideas are not heard.
“No one should make the mistake of thinking the state is weak. Those who made this mistake later realized they were wrong,” Chaudry said, adding that Islamabad “will not tolerate those who challenge the state mandate.”
The Information Minister also said that the government does not want “Blood to shed” and blamed the violence on the TLP.
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Party members, meanwhile, told Reuters that some of their activists were also killed and injured by police. The group also accused Rashid Ahmed of “lying” about settling all issues with the party, adding that no government official had contacted them.
On Tuesday, Rashid said the government was ready to consider all of the party’s demands except for the expulsion of the French diplomat.
Authorities blocked the roads leading to Islamabad on Tuesday evening in an attempt to prevent protesters from entering the city. According to some Pakistani media, additional police officers could be deployed in the city and the roads could be barricaded with containers and barbed wire.
Founded in 2015, the TLP is known for its uncompromising stance on Islam. He fiercely opposed any change to Pakistan’s blasphemy law and demanded that the nation adopt Sharia law as its basic law. In 2018, he did not enter the Pakistani parliament but still received the support of more than two million people.
The TLP found itself on a collision course with the government in April 2021 when it staged protests to pressure Islamabad to expel the French envoy. At that time, one of the party leaders – Rizvi – was arrested by the government of Punjab for maintaining “public order.” Several people, including police officers, were killed during the April unrest, although tensions eased after the government reportedly agreed to bring the issue of the ambassador’s expulsion to the National Assembly.
Although banned in April, the TLP was still allowed to run for office. The government has entered into talks with the party, which continues to demand the release of its leader and 1,400 other activists. He also demanded the lifting of the ban on the party and the expulsion of the French envoy.
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