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.


Seoul: North Korea withdrew staff from liaison office

Updated 22 March 2019
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Seoul: North Korea withdrew staff from liaison office

  • The second US-North Korea summit in Vietnam collapsed due to disputes over US-led sanctions on the North
  • The South Korean statement calls the North’s decision “regrettable”

SEOUL: North Korea abruptly withdrew its staff from an inter-Korean liaison office in the North on Friday, Seoul officials said.
The development will likely put a damper on ties between the Koreas and complicate global diplomacy on the North’s nuclear weapons program. Last month, the second US-North Korea summit in Vietnam collapsed due to disputes over US-led sanctions on the North.
Seoul’s Unification Ministry said that North Korea informed South Korea of its decision during a meeting at the liaison office at the North Korean border town of Kaesong on Friday.
The North said it “is pulling out with instructions from the superior authority,” according to a Unification Ministry statement. It didn’t say whether North Korea’s withdrawal of staff would be temporary or permanent.
According to the South Korean statement, the North added that it “will not mind the South remaining in the office” and that it would notify the South about practical matters later. Seoul’s Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung told reporters that South Korea plans to continue to staff the Kaesong liaison office normally and that it expects the North will continue to allow the South Koreans to commute to the office. He said Seoul plans to staff the office with 25 people on Saturday and Sunday.
The South Korean statement calls the North’s decision “regrettable.” It said South Korea urges the North to return its staff to the liaison office soon.
The liaison office opened last September as part of a flurry of reconciliation steps. It is the first such Korean office since the peninsula was split into a US-backed, capitalistic South and a Soviet-supported, socialist North in 1945. The Koreas had previously used telephone and fax-like communication channels that were often shut down in times of high tension.
The town is where the Korea’s now-stalled jointly run factory complex was located. It combined South Korean initiatives, capital and technology with North Korea’s cheap labor. Both Koreas want the US to allow sanctions exemptions to allow the reopening of the factory park, which provided the North with much-needed foreign currency.