Islamabad vows to ‘take action’ against belligerent protesters

Members of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, a political party, shout slogans during a sit-in in Rawalpindi on Monday. (Reuters)
Updated 14 November 2017
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Islamabad vows to ‘take action’ against belligerent protesters

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb has said the time for negotiating with anti-blasphemy protesters is over.
Since last week, hard-line activists, many carrying makeshift weapons, have disrupted life in the federal capital, blocking the main highway between Islamabad and Rawalpindi and demanding that Law and Justice Minister Zahid Hamid resign.
The protests stem from government amendments to the electoral law in October which altered the wording of an oath for lawmakers. The government has repeatedly claimed that the change from “I believe” to “I solemnly swear” was “a clerical error” and the original wording was swiftly restored.
But the protesters accuse Hamid of sympathizing with a minority Ahmadi sect. The far-right leaders organizing the protests have been calling on supporters from other cities to descend on Islamabad and add their voices to their call for Hamid’s removal.
Hamid has posted a video on social media discussing his faith in a bid to lay the allegations to rest.
“I solemnly swear that I have no affiliation with Qadiani Group, Lahori Group and (nor do) I call myself Ahmadi,” he said. All three of those sects are declared as non-Muslims in Pakistan’s constitution.
What began on Oct. 25 as a few dozen protesters from hard-line religious groups, including Sunni Tehreek, grew rapidly last Wednesday as the Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) party led by clerics Dr. Asif Ashraf Jalali and Maulana Khadim Hussain Rizvi joined the rally.
Protesters have blocked the main artery between Islamabad and Rawalpindi, staging a sit-in at Faizabad intersection, pitching tents and threatening anyone trying to cross their lines.
Islamabad’s administration has placed shipping containers on several routes into the city and have deployed a large contingent of law enforcement officers to maintain order.
Some schools and businesses have closed and messages circulating on social media suggest people should avoid leaving their homes unless absolutely necessary. Public transport has been disrupted and the city’s business district has suffered significant losses as its main road has been shutdown by police to prevent protesters from reaching federal government buildings, as they have threatened to do if Hamid does not resign.
Aurangzeb suggested that the government’s patience may be running out.
“I think we gave them enough time and negotiated but they wouldn’t listen,” she told Arab News. “They have made everyone’s life miserable and we will take action to remove the protesters.”
Aurangzeb said the Ministry of Interior has ordered the road to be cleared.
In a statement, Minister of Interior Ahsan Iqbal said: “The government is avoiding extreme action so that extremists cannot take advantage of it.”
He added that the government is “trying to avoid violence.” However, he stressed that putting people’s lives at risk is a criminal offense.
“Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah leaders can protest but should avoid challenging the law,” Iqbal said, adding that he hoped the protesters would not force the government to take “extreme measures.”


Bangladesh party says hundreds of supporters held before polls

Bangladeshi policewomen stand guard outside the office of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). (AP file photo)
Updated 40 min 18 sec ago
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Bangladesh party says hundreds of supporters held before polls

  • Ahmed denied this, saying the crackdown was a political “blueprint” by the ruling party to intimidate its opponents

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s opposition party Sunday said nearly 2,000 of its supporters have been arrested on trumped-up charges in a crackdown aimed at derailing its campaign just weeks from a general election.
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which is seeking to unseat Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on December 30, said at least 1,972 party officials and grassroots campaigners had been detained since the election was announced a month ago.
The arrests are yet another blow for a beleaguered opposition whose leader Khaleda Zia has been jailed for corruption and barred from running against arch-rival Hasina, who is seeking a third consecutive term.
The opposition boycotted the 2014 election, saying it was rigged against Zia in favor of Hasina and her ruling Awami League party.
BNP spokesman Rizvi Ahmed told AFP the majority of party cadres rounded up since late November in the police sweep were still behind bars.
“They have filed hundreds of ghost, or fictitious cases, against our party workers and leaders,” he said.
Another party official said at least 11 opposition candidates had also been detained before official campaigning begins Monday.
“Six of them are still in the jail,” said the official, who declined to be named.
Police have said those arrested had outstanding warrants or were wanted over alleged connections to ongoing cases.
Ahmed denied this, saying the crackdown was a political “blueprint” by the ruling party to intimidate its opponents.
“The government wants to hold a lopsided election. These arrests are just to create fear among the people, so that they don’t go to vote,” he said.
The opposition also accused police officials in Chittagong, a southern city, of campaigning on behalf of the Awami League. Police in the port city denied the allegations.
The arrests further hinder an already battered alliance of opposition parties, led by the BNP, which have seen their core leadership jailed on charges they say are fabricated.
Zia, a two-time former prime minister and friend-turned-foe to Hasina, was last month ordered by a court to stay behind bars for a decade for graft.
Her supporters say the charges are politically motivated to stymie Hasina’s chief political threat.
Zia’s son, a potential heir to the BNP throne, was sentenced in absentia to life behind bars while hundreds of other loyalists have been arrested or jailed, party officials say.
Just a month from the polls, the BNP has not announced an alternative candidate to run against Hasina, whose rule has been marred by allegations of rights abuses and intolerance for dissent.
Bangladesh has been led by either Zia or Hasina since the 1990s and the two powerful women have turned from close allies to fierce enemies.
Hasina has refused to allow a caretaker government to oversee the country during the campaign period.