Pakistani police warn Islamists to disperse

Published 10:03 am Wednesday, March 30, 2016

ISLAMABAD — Pakistani police were readying Wednesday to disperse hundreds of radical Islamists rallying outside the parliament building in Islamabad if they failed to disperse peacefully, officials said.

Earlier, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan warned the demonstrators late Tuesday that the government would use force if they did not halt their sit-in, underway since Sunday.

Thousands of riot police and paramilitary troops have been deployed around the site, police official Nauman Alvi said. Khan, the minister, said nearly 7,000 security forces were awaiting a government order to move in.

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“We don’t want any violence, but we can’t tolerate it anymore,” Khan said.

More than 10,000 Islamists from Pakistan’s Sunni Tehreek group descended on Islamabad on Sunday to denounce last month’s hanging of officer Mumtaz Qadri for the 2011 murder of secular Gov. Salman Taseer who had campaigned against Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws.

The protesters also demand the death of a jailed Christian woman whom Taseer had defended against blasphemy allegations, as well as enforcement of Islamic Shariah law in the country. The government has said it will not fulfill their demands.

Their rally turned violent on Sunday and police fired tear gas but failed to disperse the protesters. Though the sit-in continued, the number of protesters has dwindled down to about 1,200.

Qadri’s hanging was part of the government’s latest efforts to turn the tide against extremism and militancy, which have claimed tens of thousands of lives over the last decade.

The Islamabad protest comes against the backdrop of a massive suicide bombing by a breakaway Taliban faction that targeted Christians gathered for Eastern Sunday in a park in Lahore, killing 72 people, most of them Muslim.