Violent protests erupted across Pakistan on Saturday after security forces launched an early-morning crackdown on thousands of religious demonstrators camped on a highway in the capital in which a policeman was killed and 200 hundred people were injured. The authorities ordered private television channels to go off the air.
Roughly 8,500 elite police and paramilitary troops in riot gear were seen throwing rocks and using slingshots in the bid to followers of the cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi of the Tehreek-e-Labaik party who began rallying near Faizabad interchange soon after dawn.
The protests had erupted after the Pakistani Parliament approved an amendment to the electoral law earlier, removing an oath public servants had to take before assuming office, reiterating their belief in Prophet Muhammad.
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The amendment was deemed a "clerical error" by the government and was rectified. But the protesters still demand the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid for his alleged role in the controversy. They attacked his home in Pasrur but the minister and his family were not present at that time.
Security forces resorted to rubber-bullets after the protesters put up the resistance. The law enforcement agencies lobbed tear gas shells and used water cannons to disperse the crowd. In return, the demonstrators pelted stones on the security personnel.
Amid the furore, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal claimed that religious parties protesting in Islamabad had "contacted India", and that the government was investigating the matter.
"Why they did it, we are looking into it. They have inside information and resources that are being used against the state," he was quoted as saying by Dawn online.
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) prohibited all satellite TV channels from covering the operation at Faizabad. The authority advised media houses to ensure the safety and security of their field staff.
Social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were blocked by web browsers across the country.
Protesters broke the gate of former Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar's residence. They set the gate, a building and a mobile satellite van located near Nisar's residence ablaze.
He and his family were not at the residence at the time of the incident.
The protesters had been camping since November 8 on the main highway that connects Islamabad to the city of Rawalpindi causing huge traffic snarls that led to the closure of some schools in the capital.
The Islamabad High Court on November 18 directed the local administration to clear protesters from Faizabad, within 24 hours. However, the government did not carry out the orders and initiated several rounds of talks with the protesters to disperse them peacefully, but failed each time.
The operation on Saturday came a day after the court issued a show-cause notice for contempt of court to the Interior Minister over his failure to take steps ordered by the court to end the sit-in.
According to reports, the operation against protesters was suspended at 1.30 p.m. At least 370 protesters were taken into custody, said police officials. At least 10 motorcycles and two vehicles were torched during the operation.
Ninety police and Frontier Constabulary personnel were among 200 injured. An Islamabad police spokesman confirmed that a policeman was killed in the clash with protesters after he was struck in the head by a rock.
The crackdown also sparked protests in other parts of the country. In Karachi, people supporting the sit-in took to the streets and blocked several roads, causing disruption in traffic flow.
Clashes also erupted between supporters of sit-in and police after they burned tires and blocked roads and railway tracks in the country's eastern cities of Lahore and Daska.