LAHORE: A group that shut down Islamabad-Rawalpindi a year ago has renewed its protest, this time in Lahore, where it has started sit-ins at major roads.
Supporters of Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) have spread to what they claim are more than 80 places in the city. This is a continuation of their dharna last year over changes to the election law.
On Thursday, TLYR’s demonstrators were seen carrying batons at Shahdara Chowk, Shahdara Town, Niazi Chowk, Metro route, Handiya Bridge, Thokhar Niaz Baig, Multan Road, Kasur road, Chungi Amarnath, according to our correspondents.
The TLYR men blocked the Metro bus routes from both sides and the service was stopped.
The group had been protesting at Lahore’s Data Darbar from Monday, April 2. Talks failed with the Punjab government. The government was represented by Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah. They last met at 4pm on Thursday.
The group had been threatening to hold nationwide protests from Friday if its demands were not met. Two thousand policemen have been deployed at entry points in Islamabad, and 500 Rangers personnel have been called in. "Nobody will be allowed to enter Islamabad," Islamabad's SSP Security said. There has been no police presence near the Lahore protests, our correspondent adds.
“We have already implemented our agreement with the religious group. The new protest is unjustified,” Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said. “The sit-ins are damaging the image of Pakistan internationally,” he said, adding his government had even sacrificed its law minister to avoid chaos.
Talking to SAMAA.TV, Punjab government spokesman Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan said they are trying to engage TLYR leadership in talks and would take every possible step to defuse tension.
He said the government has reached an agreement with the religious group on some points, but deadlock persists on others.
“The protesters didn’t demand Rana Sanaullah’s resignation,” he said. “The government doesn’t have powers to withdraw the cases which are being heard in the courts.”
When asked whether the government will use force to disperse the portesters, Khan said “no such step is on cards”.
“We are a little scared after what happened in Model Town a few years ago,” he said referring to 2014 clashes between police and supporters of Dr Tahirul Qadri. “But if the writ of the state needs to be established, it will be.”
Protests have spread to other cities of Punjab. There are protests in Rawalpindi, Mandi Bahauddin and Gujranwala.
Karachi is also witnessing a protest at one of city’s busiest Numaish chowrangi area.
[caption id="attachment_1395097" align="alignnone" width="640"] TLYR Dharna at Numaish Chowrangi in Karachi[/caption]
TLYR is led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who is facing arrest warrants.
Last year, the group began a protest at the crucial Faizabad interchange. The protest was organised over changes to an oath in the elections law—but a year after the amendments were made. The government said it was a clerical error but this was not accepted by the group.
Violence eventually broke out across the country. The protest was called off after the army intervened. The group demanded the law minister resign, which he did. An agreement was brokered by the army between the government and the TLYR, but the Islamabad High Court has questioned its legality.
An anti-terrorism court had declared Rizvi and other leaders proclaimed offenders but the authorities did not arrest them.