Religious Pakistani group calls off protests after deal with government


A Pakistani religious group, whose supporters have been holding sit-ins and clashing with police, has ended the protests after the Islamabad government agreed to its demand for the resignation of the law minister.

“On the assurance of the Chief of Army Staff, we are calling off the sit-in,” Khadim Hussain Rizvi, leader of the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakistan (TLY), said Monday.

He was speaking to a gathering of some 2,500 supporters of the religious group, who have occupied a main highway leading into Islamabad since November 6, paralyzing the capital city.

Earlier in the day, the religious group’s spokesman, Ejaz Ashrafi, said the government had accepted his party’s “main demand,” which was the resignation of Federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid.

“Government will announce the law minister’s resignation and we will end our sit-in today,” he added.

The activists of Tehreek-e-Labaik blamed Hamid for changing the wording of an electoral oath, an amendment they say amounts to blasphemy. The government has, however, put the issue down to an error.

Meanwhile, state media reported that Hamid submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi late on Sunday “to take the country out of a crisis-like situation.”

According to Pakistan’s Geo TV, as part of the agreement with the government, members of the protesting group who were detained by police would be released, and the newly-amended election oath would be reviewed.

Pakistani protesters from the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah religious group offer funeral prayers for a protester who was killed on November 25, 2017, during clashes with police in Islamabad. (Photo by AFP)

On Saturday, seven people were killed and nearly 200 wounded after Pakistani police failed in their attempt to disperse the protesters in Islamabad, prompting more violent demonstrations in other major cities.

The government later called in the military to respond to the unrest, but the army chief only advised the premier to find a peaceful way out of the situation, Reuters said.

The opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party also accused the government of bungling the efforts to remove the protesters and called for early elections.

Hamid’s ousting is the latest in a series of heavy blows to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

In July, PML-N’s Nawaz Sharif was deposed as prime minister by the courts over graft allegations, while finance minister Ishaq Dar — also accused of corruption — has taken indefinite medical leave.

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