South Asia

Pakistani police launch massive operation to clear Tehreek-e-Labaik Islamist rally

Protesters demand that Minister of Law be fired, for changes to electoral oath that it says amounts to blasphemy

Government puts the issue down to a clerical error

Religious hard-liners have blocked main routes into Islamabad for more than two weeks now, in protest.

On Saturday when police launched an operation, involving some 4,000 officers, to disperse around 1,000 activists from Tehreek-e-Labaik, a new hard-line Islamist political party, and break up their camp, clashes broke out.

Pakistani police used tear gas and watercannon, and fought running battles with stone-throwing activists.

Dozens of protesters were arrested, and a hospital reported at least 27 people were being treated for injuries.

The mass protest, plus the recent gains of two new Islamist parties in Pakistan, demonstrated the religious right’s gathering strength ahead of what are expected to be tumultuous elections next year.

Television footage showed smoke billowing and fires burning in the streets as officers in heavy riot gear advanced. Protesters, some wearing gas masks, fought back in scattered battles across empty highways and surrounding neighbourhoods.

The protesters have paralysed daily life in the capital, and have defied court orders to disband, demanding that the Minister of Law fired.

Tehreek-e-Labaik blames the Minister, Zahid Hamid, for changes to an electoral oath that it says amounts to blasphemy. The government puts the issue down to a clerical error.

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