The sit-in at Islamabad entered its fourth day on Wednesday as protesters violated the deadline given by the government to vacate the Red Zone by midnight.
Several thousand protesters marched on Islamabad Sunday, clashing with security forces before setting up camp outside key government buildings along the capital’s main Constitution Avenue.
A delegation representing the government negotiated with the protesters all night long. At four in the morning, Professor Ashraf Jilani, who represented the protesters, told media that many of their demands were being considered by the government.
Sources said the next round of talks was expected to take place at 12 noon today, and that a breakthrough is expected by this evening.
Several rounds of talks between the government and protestors have taken place since yesterday. In the first round of talks, the administration and cleric Ovais Noorani met Ijaz Qadri and Professor Ashraf at Punjab House.
The protestors — who numbered some 25,000 at their peak — had gathered in support of Mumtaz Qadri, who was hanged in late February five years after he assassinated a liberal Punjab governor over his calls to reform the country’s blasphemy laws.
Hailed as a hero by right-wing religious groups when he murdered Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, the demonstrators have demanded that Qadri is named a “martyr” and called for the execution of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five on death row for blasphemy.
The government gave the demonstrators an ultimatum to leave late Tuesday, but it went unheeded, prompting the government to issue a second call saying security forces would begin an operation to clear the area Wednesday morning.
The second round of talks was held at federal minister Khwaja Saad Rafique’s residence.
The government wants protestors to disperse without it having to use violence.
Meanwhile, in Karachi supporters in solidarity with the Islamabad protest have staged a sit-in at Numaish Chowrangi, blocking the flow of traffic through M A Jinnah Road for three days now.
Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Tuesday said that if protestors at D-Chowk in front of the Parliament building did not disperse tonight then the sensitive Red-Zone area of the federal capital will be evacuated ‘peacefully’ by tomorrow.
Speaking at a press conference, he said some people were found involved in damaging government installations and inflicting injuries to the security officials.
“We want to evacuate D-Chowk area in the presence of the media peacefully on Wednesday.”
Army troops are already standing guard at government buildings near the protest camp.
Meanwhile, mobile phone services remained blocked for the fourth day in Islamabad today as hundreds of activists belonging to various religious groups continued to protest the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, who killed former Punjab governor Salman Taseer.