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Pakistan: Army Chief Meets PM Following Protests

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Shahid Khaqan Abbasi advised to negotiate with protesters after Saturday's crackdown, say sources.

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi chaired meetings with top government officials, including the army chief, on Sunday to review the aftermath of a security crackdown on protesters which left six dead and hundreds wounded.

The two-hour long meeting in the capital Islamabad discussed ways to resolve the crisis, including fresh talks with protesters, a prime minister house official told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on talking to the media.

Most participants, who included cabinet members, advised the premier to avoid the use of force as it will trigger more violence.

Thousands of protesters continued to occupy major roads in several parts of Pakistan, including Islamabad, on Sunday crippling daily life and forcing the country's powerful army chief to cut short his foreign visit, officials and local media reported.

Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, who was on an official visit to U.A.E., cut short his trip and met the prime minister on Sunday evening.

He advised the prime minister to avoid the use of force and restore news channels, an army official told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity, due to restrictions on speaking to the media.

Minutes after his meeting, the two-day clampdown on news channels was lifted across the country.

Protesters demand resignation of cabinet

Stick-wielding protesters attacked a police check post and burned at least five vehicles in early morning violence near Islamabad, local broadcaster Geo TV reported.

The protesters belonging to Tehrik Labbaik Ya Rasoolallah (Movement to serve Prophet of Allah) -- a newly formed group which represents the Sunni-Barelvi school of thought -- have been blocking a main highway which connects Rawalpindi city to Islamabad since early November.

They were protesting an election clause related to the finality of Prophet Mohammad – which was restored earlier this month amid countrywide protests.

In legislation billed last month, to pave way for the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to return as the ruling party head, following his ouster by the Supreme Court the clause was modified – something the government called a ‘clerical mistake’.

According to the restored clause, the voters at the time of registration for the general elections have to declare that they believe in the finality of Prophet Mohammad, failing which, their names will be included in a separate list for Ahmedis or Qadianis -- a minority sect which was declared non-Muslim by the parliament in 1974.

The religious groups blamed the ruling Pakistani Muslim League (Nawaz) party, mainly the Law Minister Zahid Hamid, for “deliberately” modifying the clauses to favor the minority sect, and demanded his resignation.

Following Saturday’s police action in the country the protesters are now demanding resignation of the whole cabinet.

Army called in

The crackdown, which was suspended on Saturday evening, came after a Supreme Court ruling which ordered their removal.

Violent protests and clashes, which saw torching of vehicles and property, compelled the government to call in the army to secure the capital on Saturday.

Para-military force Rangers are deployed near the venue of the sit-in as hundreds of protesters are still camped at Faizabad area, a junction connecting Rawalpindi and Islamabad cities.

Army vehicles which moved into the capital were welcomed by protesters who chanted pro-Army slogans.

Political leaders and civil society condemned Saturday’s attack by protesters on residences of former Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Hamid in Rawalpindi and Sialkot cities respectively.

"We strongly condemn the attacks on houses of Nisar Ali Khan and other leaders," Syed Khurshid Shah, opposition leader in National Assembly, the parliament’s lower house said in a statement.

The government of northeastern Punjab province called in Rangers to control the situation as hundreds of protesters who ransacked public properties on Saturday, are still occupying several roads and sites in provincial capital Lahore and other cities.

Scores of protesters still camped on the roads in different cities, including Karachi, Multan, Hyderabad, Faisalabad, Bahawalpur, Gujrat and other cities of Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.

 

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