Pakistan military: ‘patience’ tested ahead of mass protests

Pakistani rangers stand guard during a Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan protest on Wednesday, October 31, against the acquittal of a Christian woman for blasphemy. (AFP)
Updated 02 November 2018
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Pakistan military: ‘patience’ tested ahead of mass protests

  • ‘We are tolerating remarks against us but action can be taken according to the law and constitution’
  • ‘Don’t force us into taking an action’

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s powerful military warned Friday its patience had been thoroughly tested after being threatened by Islamist hard-liners enraged by the acquittal of a Christian woman for blasphemy, as the country braced for more mass protests.
Spokesman Asif Ghafoor said the armed forces’ tolerance had been taken to its “threshold” after hard-liners called for a mutiny against its top brass earlier this week in response to the Supreme Court’s dismissal of blasphemy charges against Asia Bibi — ending her eight-year ordeal on death row.
Mobile services in major cities across Pakistan were down as religious parties prepared to hold another day of demonstrations against the Supreme Court’s decision.
“We are tolerating remarks against us but action can be taken according to the law and constitution,” the spokesman told state media.
“Don’t force us into taking an action,” he added.
Blasphemy is a massively inflammatory charge in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations of insulting Islam and its Prophet Muhammad can provoke death at the hands of vigilantes.
The protests are being largely led by the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan party, which is known for its hardline stance on blasphemy issues.
Officials said talks with the protesters were ongoing ahead of nationwide protests set to kick off after Friday prayers — the holiest day of the Islamic week and a time when the size of demonstrations can often swell.
Several mainstream religious parties were also set to hold separate demonstrations in major cities following prayers.
Since Wednesday’s verdict TLP has been holding sit-ins in cities across the country with supporters blocking major traffic thoroughfares, causing gridlock and school closures in key hubs like Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi.
TLP, founded in 2015, blockaded the capital Islamabad for several weeks last year calling for stricter enforcement of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws.
That protest forced the resignation of the federal law minister and paved the way for the group to poll more than 2.23 million votes in the July 25 general election, in what analysts called a “surprisingly” rapid rise.
The protests come after Prime Minister Imran Khan issued a forceful rebuke to the TLP in a nationally televised address in the ruling’s wake, saying the government would not tolerate violent protests.
The former cricketer left hours after the address for a state visit to China, where he will likely seek financial assistance from Beijing to shore up the country’s deteriorating finances.


Sri Lanka parliament to meet in showdown between rival PMs

Updated 21 min 10 sec ago
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Sri Lanka parliament to meet in showdown between rival PMs

  • Sri Lanka has been locked in a power struggle since the prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was sacked
  • The power struggle has crippled the work of the administration

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s parliament will meet under tight security Wednesday, after the top court ruled its dissolution illegal and opened the door to a vote on which of two rival prime ministers has the support to rule.
Sri Lanka has been locked in a power struggle since the president sacked prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on October 26 and replaced him with former strongman president Mahinda Rajapaksa.
On Tuesday the Supreme Court overruled President Maithripala Sirisena’s dissolution of parliament, and halted preparations for a snap election, in a major boost for the ousted prime minister.
Wickremesinghe is confident he can command a majority and wants a vote on the floor of the 225-member assembly to determine the legitimacy of the government installed by presidential diktat.
“Speaker Karu Jayasuriya ordered the police to ensure that MPs have free access to parliament,” a spokesman for the Speaker said. “There will be tight security.”
Thousands of armed police have been deployed along the key approach roads to parliament, which is located on a man-made lake island, with several anti-riot units on standby.
Parliament officials fear that supporters of Rajapaksa’s party may try to stop legislators getting to parliament.
However, by early Wednesday there were no large crowds and only small pockets of Wickremesinghe supporters gathered near the parliament complex.
Rajapaksa’s party was divided Tuesday on facing a test in parliament. His legislator son Namal Rajapaksa said they will attend the legislature, but other party seniors said they would not.
Sirisena sacked the legislature after his party admitted that they did not have an absolute majority despite engineering the defections of eight legislators from Wickremesinghe’s party.
Since then, at least two legislators have ditched Rajapaksa and joined Wickremesinghe’s UNP party which insists it has a comfortable majority in the House.
Wickremesinghe, who insists he is still the prime minister, has refused to vacate the official Temple Trees residence which is a symbol of state power in the island.
The power struggle has crippled the work of the administration, according to lawmakers on both sides.