Pakistan sees it own Arab Spring with thousands on the march in the capital
Pakistani supporters of Canadian-Pakistani cleric Tahir-ul Qadri hold placards during a protest march in Islamabad on Tuesday. Police fired tear gas on protesters in Islamabad as clashes erupted. (AFP PHOTO/ Farooq NAEEM)
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Thousands of people turned up on Monday to take part in a rally headed from Lahore towards Islamabad led by Maulana Tahirul Qadri, the head of the Minhajul Quran International, despite predictions by the government that the show would be a flop.
Some analysts say that the country may see some significant political changes in the coming days as the long march proceeds to Islamabad. Another 20,000-30,000 people were seen to have assembled already in the heart of Islamabad at the Blue Area where local authorities agreed with the organisers of the event that there would be no violence by the protesters and in exchange their passage would not be blocked.
Security has been put on red alert as the government fears a terrorist attack on the rally. Government officials said that they were also afraid that the participants of the rally would try and storm the parliament building if they were not checked in advance. Tahirul Qadri, meanwhile, has said that his rally would be peaceful and that there would be no attack on any government functionary.
He added, however, that it would be a "dharna" (sit-in) and would continue till the government met its demands. Qadri also conveyed a few demands to the government, including the sacking of the election commission and postponement of the upcoming elections.
Qadri, who has vowed to make public his other demands at a public meeting in Islamabad, wants immediate installation of an interim setup acceptable to all stakeholders and setting a strict criteria for individuals eligible to contest elections. As the rally moved towards Islamabad, interior minister Rehman Malik threatened to take action against the participants if they took the law into their own hands.
At the same time, another series of protests by members of the country's Shia community somewhat overshadowed the rally. Shias are protesting the killing of over 100 members of the Hazara Shia community in a bomb attack last week. The community had refused to bury its dead till the army was called in to take control of Quetta.