Pro-blasphemy law protests shut down country


ISLAMABAD/KARACHI/LAHORE/QUETTA – Violence flared on Friday as police and protesters clashed during a mass protest strike that closed businesses across the country over a bid to amend the blasphemy laws.
Markets remained closed and roads deserted in the otherwise bustling cities of Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Demonstrators said their goal was to defend the honour of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).
Hundreds of protesters in Islamabad marched from Lal Masjid to Aabpara Chowk chanting slogans to pressurise the government to not make any amendments in the laws.
Addressing the rally, Jamaat Ahl-e-Sunnat’s Dr Khadim Hussain Dhillon demanded the respective political parties terminate membership of Senator Nilofer Bakhtiar, PPP MNA Sherry Rehman and Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer for supporting amendment in blasphemy laws.
He warned the PPP government that passage of the amendments in the law from parliament would prove the last nail in its coffin. He said it was ridiculous that a government whose cabinet members could not recite versus from the Holy Quran was seeking amendments in the blasphemy laws.
Dhillon demanded the issue be referred to the Council of Islamic Ideology and added that if the government made any attempt to make amendments in the law, religious parties would march towards the Parliament House.
Protesters in Karachi pelted stones near President Asif Ali Zardari’s house as they shouted slogans. Teargas shells were fired to disperse them, while normally busy town centres turned quiet across the country. Police official Naseer Tanoli said the protesters were going to join the main rally in the town but had tried to pass the President’s home en route. All major markets and business centres were closed across the city, and no public transport was available.
Dozens of people carrying sticks chanted anti-government slogans and blocked the traffic by setting tyres on fire in Shirin Jinnah Colony. A police team arrived and persuaded them to end the obstruction.
Enraged protesters also torched tyres and blocked traffic in other parts of the city, including Gurumandir, NIPA Chowrangi, Nagan Chowrangi, Hassan Square, North Nazimabad and North Karachi.
Protest rallies and demonstrations were carried out against the proposed amendments in different areas of the city, whereas protesters blocked the intersection on the Mauripur Road and caused traffic suspension.
In Lahore, business and trade centres including Shah Alam Market, Urdu Bazar, Anarkali, Neela Gumbad, Mall Road, Hall Road, Gulberg Main Market, MM Alam Road, Hafeez Centre, Mozang, Ichhra, Jail Road, Samanabad, Akbari Mandi, Azam Market, Landa Bazar, Rang Mahal, Model Town, Brandeth Road, Mcleod Road and other markets presented a deserted look.
Workers of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) held a rally outside the Lahore Press Club and observed a sit in outside the Governor’s House.
A complete shutter down strike was also observed in Quetta. All markets and business establishment in Shara-e-Iqbal, Liaqat Bazaar, Prince Road and Jinnah Road remained closed. Frontier Corps personnel and police kept patrolling the streets.