Thousands of supporters of TLP move to Islamabad to mount pressure on PM Khan
Lahore: Tens of thousands of supporters of a banned radical Islamist party in Pakistan took out a march towards Islamabad on Thursday to press the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan to release their party chief Saad Rizvi and expel the French ambassador.
The rally by members of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which started after the government announced that it cannot meet its demand for the expulsion of the French ambassador, has reached Gujranwala, some 80 kms from here. Gujranwala is approximately 220 kms from Islamabad.
Life in the areas surrounding its route continues to remain disrupted as cellphone and internet services also remain suspended. Lahore’s link to Rawalpindi and Islamabad has also been cut off from the GT Road.
“Police and Rangers are deployed on the route but unlike Wednesday, the law enforcers did not stop the TLP workers on the order from the top as some government functionaries have engaged its leadership in talks,” a Punjab government official told PTI on Thursday.
For the time being, the government has changed its strategy in the wake of Wednesday’s bloody clashes in which four policemen and as many TLP activities were killed and over 400 injured, including policemen, he said.
The Pakistan Railways has also announced that three trains between Lahore and Rawalpindi and Islamabad will remain suspended for Thursday for both inbound and outbound services.
The government has announced that the protesters will not be allowed to reach Islamabad, the final destination of the TLP where it plans to hold a sit-in till the government accepted its demands.
TLP’s founder late Khadim Rizvi’s son Rizvi has been detained by the Punjab government since April last under the maintenance of ‘public order’ (MPO) following the party’s protest against the blasphemous caricatures published in France and its demand that the French ambassador be sent back and import of goods from that country be banned.
The TLP had given a two-day deadline on Sunday to the government to meet its demands to release the party chief and expel the French envoy or face a sit-in in the capital.
On Thursday, one of the injured policemen succumbed to his injuries.
“Constable Ghulam Rasul, posted in PS Sadar Kasur, breathed his last today morning at 9 am. He was Injured in #TLPTerrorism on 27th October and was under treatment in THQ Hospital Muridke,” a government official tweeted.
The death toll has risen to 19, which includes 11 TLP workers and eight policemen, since the clashes broke out between the TLP and the police over a week ago, according to the official.
A couple of days ago, the government had freed 350 TLP activists to appease the outfit but the government failed to convince it to end the protest.
The TLP has made it clear that it would not end the protest and at the same time doors for talks with the government are open.
On Wednesday, after a meeting of the country’s civil and military leadership, the government announced crushing the TLP “by all means and resolved that the Army, Rangers and the police would stop participants of its long march from entering the federal capital.
Prime Minister Imran Khan had categorically announced that his government could not meet the TLP’s demand of closing down the French embassy in Pakistan, saying that there was no French ambassador in the country at present.
“The cabinet has decided to treat TLP as a militant organisation and it will be crushed as other such groups have been eliminated. Pakistani state has defeated major terrorist organisations such as al-Qaeda,” Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry had said.
The government has already announced deploying Rangers in the Punjab province for two months.
Opposition leader in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif criticised the government for its failure to handle the TLP protest.
“Federal Ministers are giving contradictory statements on the prevailing situation. One of them said that Prime Minister Khan was unaware of the 2020 Agreement with the TLP. There is a sheer chaos and lack of leadership and the government machinery is totally clueless. This is Khan’s way of governing Pakistan,” Shahbaz, who is also the PML-N president, said in a tweet.
The TLP shot to fame in 2017 when it held a massive protest for three weeks in the busy Faizabad interchange near Islamabad. The party lifted the lockdown of the city after the then government sacked the law minister.