More than 100 injured in Pakistan as police try to end a two-week protest
More than 100 people have been injured as police and paramilitary troops in the Pakistani capital moved Saturday to end a two-week protest, officials said.
Scores of protesters had been blocking a key road connecting Islamabad and the neighboring city of Rawalpindi since November 8. The group is demanding the resignation of the country’s law minister for what it considers blasphemy after amended parliamentary bills weakened rules that require lawmakers to reference the Prophet Mohammed when taking their oaths.
Pakistan Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal had given protesters until last Thursday to disperse, but they continued their demonstration.Video from the scene Saturday showed law enforcement forces carrying sticks and firing tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters. Groups of protesters could be seen throwing rocks with their hands or using slingshots.
About 100 protesters were arrested Saturday, said Fakhar Sultan, a police officer in Rawalpindi city.
At least 112 people, including protesters and law enforcement, were being treated at the Pakistani Institute of Medical Services in Islamabad, said Dr. Tahir Nadeem, a physician at the hospital.
Three smaller protests broke out in Rawalpindi on roads leading to the capital, a journalist there said. The motorway between Rawalpindi and the eastern city of Lahore also was closed, as authorities feared more protesters might try to enter the city to support demonstrators in the capital.
Protests also broke out in Lahore and the southern port city of Karachi, local media reported.
According to reports, private television channels in Pakistan were taken off the air by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, according to a message slate that replaced the channels’ programming. The agency had ordered local TV channels to refrain from live coverage of the ongoing government operation. Only state-run PTV, which has not been reporting on the protest, remained on air.
Demonstrators accuse the government of blasphemy based on a proposed changed that they say would soften electoral laws. The government has apologized and denied making such a change, calling it a clerical mistake.
Protesters want Law and Justice Minister Zahid Hamid to resign over the matter. They support of Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the leader of Tehreek-e Labbaik Pakistan, a small hardline Islamic opposition party.