PM Imran Khan says 'won't take dictation from anyone'
The government has decided to deploy Rangers to maintain law and order in four Punjab cities, amid clashes between supporters of a religious party and the police.
Thousands of supporters of the Tekreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan clashed with police for the second day on Tuesday. They were demanding the release of their leader who was arrested after calling for the French ambassador to be kicked out of the country.
Police said an officer died after being wounded in clashes in Lahore, the country’s second biggest city, while the TLP said three of its supporters were killed.
The federal cabinet has approved the deployment of paramilitary troops to maintain law and order, Federal Minister Fawad Chaudhry said at a press conference.
Rangers troops will be deployed in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala and Bahawalpur, he said. The minister was briefing the press after a cabinet meeting.
Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed earlier briefed the cabinet on the protests. The meeting decided to take strict action and register terrorism cases against those violating the law, sources told SAMAA TV.
“We will not take dictation from anyone,” Prime Minister Imran Khan was quoted as telling the meeting.
Protesters spilled into the streets in anger at Monday’s arrest of TLP leader Saad Rizvi, with major intersections also blocked in the capital, Islamabad.
Rizvi was taken into custody hours after calling for a march next week on the capital to again demand the expulsion of the French ambassador over publishing of blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him).
Health officials in Punjab province have appealed to protesters not to disrupt critical oxygen supplies for Covid-19 patients.
Punjab pandemic pointman Asad Aslam said several hospitals faced oxygen shortages Monday night, but the situation stabilised after roads were cleared by authorities.
“Please do not block roads for ambulances and for visitors to the hospitals. Some ambulances are carrying oxygen cylinders, which are extremely essential for Covid patients,” Punjab Health Minister Yasmin Rashid said, after calling Monday night’s disruption a “crisis”.
Pakistan is in the grip of a deadly third wave of the coronavirus with a shortage of vaccines.
The TLP is known for days-long road protests which have brought large swathes of the country to a standstill over the years.
The nation has a long history of avoiding confrontation with religious groups, fearing any crackdown on religious parties could spark wider violence in the country.
Rizvi is the son of a firebrand cleric and previous head of the TLP, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who died in November after leading massive anti-France demonstrations across Pakistan.
During those protests, TLP supporters brought the capital to a standstill for three days that saw heavy street fighting and pushed authorities to cut mobile phone coverage in Islamabad and surrounding areas.
The demonstrations ended after a meeting between the government and party leaders, who agreed to expel the French ambassador.