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‘Faizabad sit-in’ : Cop killed, over 100 injured in Pakistan clashes

IANS | Islamabad |

A policeman was killed and over 100 people were injured as the security forces on Saturday moved to disperse a religious sit-in that has virtually paralysed the country´s capital for almost three weeks.

The police officer suffered a deadly blow to the head as protesters pelted stones at security forces during the crackdown on the I.J. Principal Road near the Faizabad Interchange.

According to Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, 139 injured were brought to the hospital.

The protests had erupted after the Pakistani Parliament approved an amendment to the electoral law on October 2, removing an oath public servants had to take before assuming office, reiterating their belief in Prophet Muhammad.

The amendment was deemed a “clerical error” by the government and was rectified. But the protesters still demand the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid for his alleged role in the controversy, Dawn online reported.

The Islamabad High Court on November 18 directed the local administration to clear the main gateway between the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, within 24 hours. However, the government did not carry out the orders and initiated several rounds of talks with the protesters to disperse them peacefully, but failed each time.

The operation on Saturday came a day after the court issued a show-cause notice for contempt of court to Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal over his failure to take steps ordered by the court to end the sit-in.

Roughly 8,500 elite police and paramilitary troops in riot gear took part in the clearance operation, which was launched soon after the final deadline of 7 a.m. given to protesters expired.

Security forces resorted to rubber-bullets after the protesters put up the resistance. The law enforcement agencies lobbed tear gas shells and used water cannons to disperse the crowd. In return, the demonstrators pelted stones on the security personnel.

At least 370 protesters were taken into custody, said police officials. At least 10 motorcycles and two vehicles were torched during the operation.

The crackdown also sparked protests in other parts of the country. In Karachi, people supporting the sit-in took to the streets and blocked several roads, causing disruption in traffic flow.

Clashes also erupted between supporters of sit-in and police after they burned tires and blocked roads and railway tracks in the country’s eastern cities of Lahore and Daska.

According to the administration, the Faizabad Interchange is now under control of authorities as the operation is still underway. Power and Internet services in and around Faizabad were suspended.