- The Pakistani Army has been called in to help tackle violent protests in Islamabad
- Protesters are demanding that voters in elections must declare Mohammed to be final prophet
- The minority Ahmedi and Qadiani sects would thus be on a seperate list
- "Blasphemy" is a sensitive issue in Pakistan, with protests and killings often resulting from accusations
In a dramatic move, Pakistan’s government late Saturday called in the army to secure the capital following an eight-hour crackdown against violent protesters.
According to an Interior Ministry statement, "sufficient troops" from the army’s 111th brigade will be deployed to aid the civil administration to enforce law and order in the capital Islamabad until further notice.
Separately, security officials in Punjab requested that ranger troops be sent to its capital Lahore, Pakistan's second-largest city by population, to help restore order.
The developments come hours after, amid tough resistance and nationwide protests, security forces suspended the crackdown on the Islamabad protesters, who had been blocking the main entrance from the city of Rawalpindi to the capital since early November.
A senior government official speaking on condition of anonymity, due to restrictions on speaking to the media, told Anadolu Agency that the security forces had been asked not to take on the violent protesters pending further orders.
The suspension, the official said, was adopted after the country’s powerful army chief's suggestion to the prime minister that the sit-in be handled peacefully.
In a tweet, Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, head of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the army's media wing, said that Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa telephoned Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and suggested that the sit-in be resolved peacefully.
Earlier, at least 160 injured were brought to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS), hospital spokesman Dr. Altaf Hussain told Anadolu Agency, as police tried to disperse the protesters using teargas shells.
The crackdown came after the country’s top court ordered their removal, after protests paralyzed life in the twin cities and the last of a long series of deadlines lapsed without response from the agitating parties.
Angry mob turns violent
Angry mobs earlier set fire to four police vans and attacked journalists, local broadcaster Geo News reported.
Later, news channels went off air, after a notification from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) barred them from broadcasting the security operation live.
The government also shut down Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube in Islamabad and Rawalpindi to block coverage of the operation.
Security forces arrested over 300 protesters -- 150 in Islamabad alone -- and took them to various police stations across Pakistan. A mob attacked former Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan's house in Rawalpindi and broke the main gate of his house.
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Scores of protesters also came out on the roads in various cities, including Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, and other cities of Punjab, and in the Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, to protest the crackdown in Islamabad.
In Karachi, the country's commercial hub, 28 injured were brought to the state-run Jinnah Post Medical Center, according to a hospital spokesman.
The protests began on Nov. 8 with demands that the government restore a key election law clause about the Prophet Mohammad.
Though the clause was restored by the lower house of parliament last week, protests by the Sunni-Barelivi group Tehrik-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool (Movement to Restore the Finality of the Prophet) continued.
Last month, legislation meant to pave the way for former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to return as ruling party head modified the clause, in what the government called a “clerical mistake”.
Under the restored clause, voters registering for general elections have to declare that they believe that Mohammad was the final prophet, otherwise their names will be put on a separate list for Ahmedis or Qadianis -- a minority sect parliament declared non-Muslim in 1974.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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