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.”


Japan halts missile drills after Trump-Kim summit

Updated 21 June 2018
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Japan halts missile drills after Trump-Kim summit

TOKYO: Japan has halted evacuation drills simulating a North Korean missile attack in the wake of historic talks between Washington and Pyongyang, local media reported Thursday.
Government officials did not immediately confirm the reports, but authorities in one town said they were suspending a drill planned for next week on orders from Tokyo.
The decision comes after US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un met last week in Singapore, with the pair signing a joint document calling for denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
Yaita in Tochigi prefecture north of Tokyo had been planning an evacuation drill for next week involving some 800 residents including 350 school children, city official Yutaka Yanagida said.
But the city suddenly canceled all preparations late Wednesday after being instructed by the government that “drills should be postponed for the time being following a change in the environment after the US-North Korea summit,” he said.
Contacted by AFP, a Cabinet Office official said the government would announce its policy on evacuation drills on Friday, declining to comment further.
Last year, Pyongyang fired two missiles over Japan and it has splashed others into the sea near the country, sparking a mix of panic and outrage.
Earlier this year, hundreds of Tokyo residents scrambled for cover in the Japanese capital’s first evacuation drill for a military attack by Pyongyang.
North Korea has singled out Japan, a key US ally in the region, for verbal attacks, threatening to “sink” the country into the sea and to turn it into “ashes.”
But the regional mood has turned toward diplomacy since the Winter Olympics hosted by South Korea, which set off a series of diplomatic moves culminating in the Trump-Kim meet.