Pakistan blocks off roads into capital as blasphemy law supporters stage sit-in

A supporter of the Pakistani radical religious party, Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah, stands guard as people offer Friday prayers during a sit-in protest in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Friday, November 10, 2017. (AP)
Updated 10 November 2017
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Pakistan blocks off roads into capital as blasphemy law supporters stage sit-in

RAWALPINDI: Pakistan on Friday blocked off roads into Islamabad, the capital, as an Islamist party that backs strict blasphemy laws staged a sit-in on a key highway, demanding the resignation of a minister it blames for changes to an electoral oath.
Dozens of Pakistanis are on death row, convicted of having insulted Islam’s prophet, a charge that carries a mandatory death sentence, although no executions have been carried out.
More than 500 supporters of the Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan party, or Movement of the Prophet’s Followers, chanted slogans as speakers addressed them from atop a cargo truck, pledging their lives to protect Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
The protesters demanded the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid, whom they hold responsible for the law change, and denounced him as a blasphemer.
“Immediately appear before us and beg for forgiveness,” said one speaker.
Two high court lawyers who joined the sit-in said they would work to advance Labaik’s agenda in the courts.
“He (Hamid) has insulted the blasphemy laws, the punishment for which is death,” said one of the lawyers.
Pakistan’s interior ministry did not immediately answer telephone calls from Reuters to seek comment.
The ruling Pakistani Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) unexpectedly set off a firestorm last month after voting through the alteration of the oath, among seemingly small changes to the nation’s electoral law.
The changes prompted accusations of blasphemy from religious parties and the government retreated, apologizing in parliament for what it called a “clerical” mistake.
But the apology did not satisfy Tehreek-e-Labaik, triggering the sit-in, as the culmination of a march of nearly 400 km (249 miles) from the eastern city of Lahore.
The party rose to prominence in September, after placing third in a by-election in Lahore, edging out a major opposition party to pick up 6 percent of the vote.
Last month, it gained nearly 8 percent in a by-election in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
While Tehrik-e-Labaik is unlikely to break out of single digits in coming votes, its rapid rise could present a challenge for the PML-N.
On a bridge overlooking the highway demonstration site, drivers of trucks halted by blockades erected by city authorities complained about cargo delivery delays.
One commuter unable to take public transport to work told Reuters his business had suffered.
“I run a tailoring shop and can’t go to work today,” said Mohammad Altaf. “I have lost a day’s earnings.”


India’s ruling party seeks to energise workers after state losses

“We realize that rural distress and employment generation are the key issues and we are working on them,” said BJP spokesman Gopal Krishna Agarwal. (AFP)
Updated 14 December 2018
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India’s ruling party seeks to energise workers after state losses

  • The government announces so-called minimum support prices for most crops to set a benchmark

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling BJP will try to canvass and galvanize its activists across India before a general election due next May, after losing power in three heartland rural states, senior leaders said after a meeting on Thursday.
Disgruntled voters blamed the slow pace of job creation and weak farm prices for the Hindu nationalist party’s defeat in the states, two of which it had ruled for three straight terms.
“We realize that rural distress and employment generation are the key issues and we are working on them,” said BJP spokesman Gopal Krishna Agarwal, who attended the meeting. “They’ll have to be tackled, and we will take suggestions from wherever needed.”
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) various wings — representing women, farmers, lower castes, Muslims and young members — will all hold deliberations after losses in the supposed stronghold states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
“These meetings are aimed at preparing for the 2019 election and spreading the party’s message in various sections of society,” Bhupender Yadav, a BJP national general secretary, said after the meeting, which he said had been scheduled before the state election results came out on Tuesday.
He also announced that a planned national convention would be held in New Delhi on Jan. 11 and 12.
Senior BJP minister Nitin Gadkari told the ET Now business channel on Thursday that the agriculture sector may have been neglected under their government.

JOBS AND FARM PRICES
Agarwal, a chartered accountant who is also a director in a state-run bank, said increasing lending for job-generating small businesses was a key focus, as was enhancing procurement of grain from farmers by government agencies at state-mandated prices so there are no distress sales.
The government announces so-called minimum support prices for most crops to set a benchmark, but state agencies mainly buy limited quantities of staples such as rice and wheat at those prices, restricting benefits of higher prices to only around 7 percent of India’s 263 million farmers, according to various studies.
Following the state election setbacks, Modi’s government is expected to announce loan waivers worth billions of dollars to woo farmers, government sources told Reuters this week.
Agarwal said the party’s loss in Madhya Pradesh, known for multiplying agriculture production under three BJP governments, has reinforced its realization that higher output helps consumers by bringing down prices, but can badly hurt farmers.
“The focus has so far been on consumers, like importing onions when prices shot up,” Agarwal said. “Now we need to look at the producers, not just the consumers.”
He also said there was a case for fiscal stimulus, given that inflation fell to a 17-month low in November. Food inflation sank to a negative 2.61 percent from a negative 0.86 percent in October, according to official data released on Wednesday.