–TLP workers block major highways, roads in various cities; reports of sporadic violence
–Government claims new deal has been reached with Khadim Hussain Rizvi
LAHORE: Bringing life to a halt in across Pakistan, leaders and workers of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) blocked major highways and roads in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore among others on Thursday while they took out rallies and protested in favour of their demands, asking the government to honour the agreement, also known as Faizabad agreement, reached between the government and TLP in November last year.
Meanwhile, late last night, Punjab government spokesman said that they have succeeded in their negotiations with the religious party to end the recent protests after assuring them that their demands will be fulfilled, and that the government will ensure that all provisions of the Faizabad agreement will be implemented.
The spokesman said that the government will publish Raja Zafarul Haq report. He said the government will withdraw cases against the workers and leadership of the TLP. He also said an FIR will be launched to look into the deaths of TLP workers during the Faizabad sit-in. Furthermore, he claimed that the TLP delegation taking part in the negotiations had gone back from Chief Minister Secretariat to discuss government’s proposals with their leadership, as of filing of this report.
The spokesperson said that Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah was representing the government in the talks.
In the wake of the escalating tensions in Lahore, the Islamabad Police held a flag march across the federal capital Islamabad to maintain peace. The flag march started from the Sports Complex and ended at the Kashmir Highway Sports Complex.
All four zonal police SPs, Rangers, Counter-terrorism Force and traffic police took part in the flag march.
Islamabad SSP Security said that no one will be allowed to enter the capital. He said that 500 Rangers personnel will be deployed in the capital today to deal with the situation, a decision, he claimed, to be part of the government’s strategy to deal with the protestors.
Earlier in the day, the Punjab government refused to succumb to the extremist outfit’s pressure to implement the Faizabad agreement that which was annulled by the superior judiciary.
There have been a number of reports of violence where TLP protestors beat up citizens, damaged vehicles and other private and public property. The protestors beat up a private TV channel’s cameraman in Rawalpindi who is reportedly in a critical condition.
According to reports, followers of fiery cleric and TLP Chairman Khadim Hussain Rizvi have blocked Shahdara Chowk, Chungi Amar Sidhu, Azadi Chowk, Motorway Interchange and Metro Bus Service in Lahore, Faizabad interchange on the Rawalpindi-Islamabad main highway, Muree Road and Liaqat Bagh, and major roads leading to Faisalabad, Sheikhpura and other central Punjab cities.
The National Highway 5, which connects the country’s two largest cities of Karachi and Lahore and several cities of Punjab province, was blocked at Pakka Meel, Chuhang, Mohlanwal, and Pattoki.
In Peshawar, the protesters demonstrated at Jameel Chowk. Long queues of traffic were formed on the Ring Road, as commuters were forced to use alternate routes.
Demonstrations also took place in Sheikhupura, Gujranwala and Mandi Bahauddin.
The TLP protesters had staged a sit-in at Lahore’s Data Darbar, which entered its 11th day as the deadline given to the Punjab government ended at 4pm on Thursday.
TLP spokesperson Sheikh Azhar told reporters that negotiations between the government and the religious party had broken down and Khadim Rizvi had given a call to his followers to come out on the streets and stage sit-ins.
The provincial government has begun deploying additional police forces to maintain law and order, however, it is not yet known how the government plans to deal with the violent protesters, who have previously held the federal capital Islamabad and other main cities of the country hostage for over 20 days in November last year.
Furthermore, the Motorway Police has summoned additional troops to deal with any untoward situation on the highways.
Meanwhile, Federal Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal has said that the ongoing TLP protests are pointless as the government had already accepted all of their demands. The law minister responsible for the controversy had also resigned, he added.
TLP leader Ali Pir Muhammad Afzal Qadri had earlier told the media that if negotiations fail, the demonstrations will eerily echo the Faizabad protest which paralysed the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad last year.
“We will not let the government deviate from what they originally promised,” Qadri added.
On April 2, hundreds of followers of the firebrand cleric, Khadim Rizvi, gathered outside the Data Darbar shrine, Bhaati Chowk, 10 days ago demanding the implementation of the Faizabad agreement. The agreement was reached between the federal government and religious parties following violent protests against an amendment in the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat clause – explained by the government as a ‘clerical’ error. The demonstration ended after the country’s premier intelligence agency ‘facilitated’ a negotiation between the government and protesters, which placed the issue to rest for the time being.
The deal struck between the protesters and government involved the resignation and removal of the federal law minister, release of all TLP workers and supporters who were arrested during the Faizabad crackdown, and all cases pending against the TLP to be disposed of.
However, Rizvi has now launched another protest movement on the same issue – the finality of prophethood – days after his arrest warrants were issued by an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) of Islamabad and he was declared as a proclaimed offender in the Faizabad sit-in case after failing to appear before the court despite repeated summons.