Pakistan calls on army to restore order as blasphemy protests spread

ISLAMABAD Activists of the Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah shout slogans on a blocked flyover during the sit-in on Friday.—AFP

Pakistani police have launched an operation to clear an intersection linking capital Islamabad with the garrison city of Rawalpindi where an Islamist group's supporters have camped out for the last 20 days.

Fearing violence, the government has blocked several roads with shipping containers to corral the protesters, but that has caused hours-long traffic jams in and around the capital. The security personnel were hit with stones thrown by protesters.

In a tweet, Maj. "Suggested to handle Islamabad Dharna peacefully avoiding violence from both sides as it is not in national interest and cohesion", Major General Asif Ghafoor, the director general of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), said in a tweet referring to the conversation between General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

Angry mobs earlier set fire to four police vans and attacked journalists, local broadcaster Geo News reported.

Sindh MYC President Asadullah Bhutto in a statement said that people's routine lives had come to a halt, owing to violent incidents as the protest had been expanded throughout the country from Islamabad.

Ahsan Iqbal said that protesters had been holding Twin Cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi hostage for last 20 days, adding that few elements were misleading innocent minds.

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Police said two men were sitting inside a vehicle when one of them discharged the gun while trying to holster the weapon. No one was arrested in the violence, Lieutenant Keith Czeskleba said a statement released at around 9:45 a.m. on Friday.

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There is chaos in Islamabad in Pakistan after government action on thousands of protesters belonging to a religious outfit led to clashes.

News media also reported protesters breaking into the house of former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.

After banning news channels, the government has also shut down social media websites including FaceBook, YouTube and Twitter.

In Karachi, the country's commercial hub, 28 injured were brought to the state-run Jinnah Post Medical Center, according to a hospital spokesman.

However, the protesters regrouped agian and continued their siege of the capital that started about three weeks ago, demanding sacking of Law Minister Zahid Hamid for changes in a law related to the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat (finality of prohpethood) oath in the Elections Act 2017.

The government was accused by the critics, of bungling its response to the protest, and allowing a minor issue to grow into a headline-grabbing and potentially unsafe situation.

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