Govt invites TLY for talks after protesters clash with police

  • Three cops injured, over two dozen protesters arrested
  • Citizens urge SC to take action as twin cities remain paralysed

ISLAMABAD: The government on Tuesday invited representatives of the Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah – protesting and staging a sit-in at Faizabad junction for the last eight days – for talks and made it clear that no Muslim could even think of any compromise on the issue of finality of the Prophet-hood (Khatme Nabuwwat), as a clash between the protesters and police officials left at least six law enforcers, including a station house officer (SHO), severely injured.

Just before midday, rumours began to circulate among the protestors that the police were planning a surprise operation against them. The rumour was triggered by the deployment of thousands of law enforcement officials, including Frontier Constabulary (FC), Special Branch, police officials and elite force, in and around Faizabad where the protest was underway.

Around 11am, organisers of the rally made announcements that they were going to be attacked by police. On their call, the protestors armed with sticks and iron rods readied themselves for a clash and took positions to resist the assault.

As police officials also took position in an indication that they wanted the protesters to lift their siege of the capital, a clash got underway in which SHO Qasim Khan and two other policemen were injured. Over two dozen protesters were also arrested as the police took advantage of the rainfall that forced the protesters to disperse.

Roughly 2,000 protesters are demanding the resignation of Federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid over an amendment to the Prophet-hood Declaration Clause in the Electoral Reforms Bill, 2017.

According to the Islamabad Police chief, the protesters deliberately tried to escalate tension so that a clash with police could become inevitable. The protesters, on the other hand, said they would defend themselves if the police conducted an operation against them.

Reports said that Khadim Hussain Rizvi and other TLY leaders had told the protesters to put up resistance, signalling that they would continue to defy orders to clear the interchange.

In a joint presser later in the day, Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Sardar Muhammad Yousaf, Minister of State for Interior Talal Chaudhry and Minister for State for Capital Administration and Development Division (CADD) Dr Tariq Chaudhry said the government wanted to end the sit-in peacefully through dialogue.

“We request them (protesters) to end their protest. The government has already rectified the error in the nomination paper for election and now there is no justification to continue the sit-in, which is causing great inconvenience and hardship to people of the twin cities,” they said.

They categorically said that firm belief in Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) as the last Messenger of Allah Almighty, is the fundamental part of Islamic faith, which was also an integral part of the Constitution.

They further said the matter had already been settled once for all and it should not be politicised, keeping in view its sensitivity now that the error in the Electoral Reforms Bill-2017 had been undone.

Minister for Religious Affairs Sardar Muhammad Yousaf said the government took prompt action after identification of the mistake and rectified it by summoning a special session of the Parliament.

Earlier, Punjab government spokesman Malik Muhammad Ahmed Khan said that the protests were a “serious inconvenience for people and disturbance to the public life” in the province that surrounds Islamabad. “The Punjab government has detained dozens of TLY activists from various districts,” he said.

Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal urged the protesters on Monday night to call off the sit-in, saying he hoped the government “wouldn’t be forced to take extreme steps”. The protesters reportedly detained several policemen, seized their weapons and mistreated them. “The abduction of the police is a heinous crime,” Iqbal said in a statement. Police also accused the protesters of throwing stones at them.

Separately, Federal Minister of Religious Affairs Sardar Mohammad Yousaf, while addressing a joint press conference with Minister of State for Interior Affairs Tallal Chaudry, reiterated that the government firmly believes in the finality of Prophet-hood.

“All Muslims are firm believers in the finality of Prophet-hood, and we have no ambiguity over the clause,” Yousaf stressed.

The religious affairs minister urged the protesters to end their demonstration as the government has taken notice of their reservations.

Thousands of people use the interchange to commute every day to work in the capital. Last week, an eight-month-old child died on his way to the hospital after being stuck in traffic because of the TLY’s blockade.

The protesters have erected tents on the greenbelt and deputed their own ‘security’ personnel who frisk pedestrians and motorbike riders.

They have also been controlling traffic for hundreds of meters around their protest camp, parking buses at several locations on Islamabad Highway and removing nearby police checkposts.

As a result, all major roads including Seventh Avenue on Kashmir Highway, Islamabad Expressway, Murree Road and IJP Principal Road have been completely closed for traffic. Due to diversions, the alternative roads are also clogged including Kashmir Highway, Club Road, Taramri Chowk and other arteries.

Life for the residents of Islamabad and Rawalpindi has been at a standstill for the past one week due to the sit-in. Thoroughly exasperated by the situation, the citizens have urged the Supreme Court to intervene in the matter.

The residents complained about the use of roads by political and religious groups for rallies and said such processions caused immense misery.

The commuters complained that due to the partial suspension of Metro Bus Service, they had no option but to use either slow-moving minibuses or fast taxis to reach their respective destinations, adding that the cabbies overcharged them.


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