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Islamist Group Says It Will Call Off Islamabad Protests After Deal With Government

Protests demanding the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid had grown increasingly violent in recent days.

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistani Islamist activists say they will call off their weeks-long protests after reaching agreement with the government for the resignation of the country’s law minister, possibly bringing an end to days of deadly clashes in the capital.

"Our main demand has been accepted," Ejaz Ashrafi, spokesman of the Tehreek-e Labaik Ya Rasool Allah group, told the Reuters news agency early on November 27. "Government will announce the law minister’s resignation, and we will end our sit-in today."

Protests demanding the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid had grown increasingly violent in recent days, with the Islamist group blocking the entrance to the capital, Islamabad, leading to clashes that killed six people and injured some 200 others.

The Islamists claimed Hamid was behind what they called a blasphemous bill to amend the country's electoral oath because he altered the words of the Prophet Muhammad in the legislation. Hamid apologized and blamed the omission on a clerical error.

The state-run news channel PTV and other media reported on November 27 that Hamid had offered his resignation to Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, although no official government statement had been issued.

Violence in Islamabad had prompted Pakistan’s Interior Ministry on November 25 to authorize the deployment of "sufficient troops" from the country’s military to "control law and order" in the city until further notice.

Pakistani Police Launch Operation To Clear Islamist Rally
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Sensitive Installations

Reports said army troops were meant to secure sensitive installations, diplomatic enclaves, as well as the offices of the judiciary, parliament, presidency, prime minister, and Foreign Ministry.

But although police and paramilitary forces surrounded a protest camp set up by activists in the Faizabad District, there were no army troops at the scene of the demonstration early on November 26.

"We will move when we have orders," Police Superintendent Amir Niazi said. "What the protesters did yesterday was in no means lawful. They attacked our forces."

About 2,000 protesters have maintained the camp since November 6, blocking a main road into Islamabad that is used by thousands of commuters coming from the nearby garrison city of Rawalpindi.​

But early on November 26, it was clear that the protest rally had grown to even larger numbers, including several thousand members of the Tehreek-e Labaik Ya Rasool Allah party.

Protests also spread to nine other cities, including Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi.

Islamists Rally In Pakistan's Northwest In Solidarity With Islamabad Protesters
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RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal reported on November 26 that protesters also had entered Islamabad's I-8 sector -- and area bordering Rawalpindi.

'Seems To Be Failing'

Pakistani opposition politicians from Islamist parties blamed the violence in the capital on the government.

Shehryar Khan Afridi, a parliamentary deputy from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal that "the government used force, which was not a [suitable] measure, causing injuries and damage to public property."

Muhammad Ibrahim Khan, a leader of the religious Jamaat-e-Islami opposition party, told RFE/RL that the government "seems to be failing," and should have contacted opposition parties with "considerable presence in the parliament before taking action."

But Mia Iftikhar Hussain, leader of the opposition Awami National Party, noted that the government action came after the courts ordered authorities to remove the protesters.

"The government showed patience for 20 days," Hussain told RFE/RL. "After the court's ruling, it was in a perplexing situation where, if it does not act following the court's instruction, the court will retaliate. And if it acts, the people will react."

Allies of the governing Pakistan Muslim League-N also defended the police operation aimed at removing the protest camp.

"The government did not have any other option to disperse the protestors," Abuld Qahar Wadan, a parliamentary deputy from the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party told RFE/RL. "Some political parties that align with dictators said it was a wrong action."

"The government had consulted them. It had assured the protesters that is will meet their demands. But the protesters demanded the government to resign. it does not happen this way anywhere in the world."

Broadcasting Restrictions

Meanwhile, Pakistan's Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) late on November 26 ordered the restoration of cable television broadcasts, which the governmental media regulator had shut down in the midst of the violence a day earlier.​

That order was issued after journalists and their unions on November 26 demanded the private television channels be allowed to broadcast coverage of the protests in Islamabad and other cities via cable.

Separately, Pakistan's telecom authority also banned access to social media networks like Twitter, YouTube, and Dailymotion in an attempt to prevent coverage of the standoff between the Islamist protesters and authorities.

Despite the operation involving 8,500 elite police and paramilitary troops in riot gear – and the use of tear gas and batons by authorities – the security forces on November 25 were unable disperse those at the protest camp.

With reporting by RFE/RL Radio Mashaal correspondent Abdul Hai Kakar; Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, and BBC