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Pakistan capital tense as military silent on protests

Pakistan capital tense as military silent on protests

The government called in the Pakistani military late on Saturday to help control the situation, but on Sunday no soldiers were visible among the security forces cordon established to contain the protesters.

The protesters amassed at the Faizabad bridge belong to various "religious" parties, including the Tehreek-i-Khatm-i-Nabuwwat, Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) and the Sunni Tehreek Pakistan (ST), and have been calling for the sacking of Law Minister Zahid Hamid and strict action against those behind the amendment to the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath in the Elections Act 2017 ─ which had earlier been deemed a "clerical error". Thousands of riot police and paramilitary fired tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets at the Islamist demonstrators during the clearing operations.

A day earlier, at least six were killed and hundreds were wounded as violent clashes broke out between law enforcement personnel and protesters camped out at the Faizabad Interchange.

Protests also have spread to nine other cities and towns, including Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi. The protesters blocked roads and demonstrated at the Numaish traffic intersection in the city's busy Saddar area. Numerous supporters are from ultra-conservative Tehreek-e-Labaik party, who accuse Law Minister Zahid Hamid of blasphemy.

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. More than 20 injured were taken to other hospitals. The situation prompted the country's regulatory body for electronic media to take TV broadcasts off the air.

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Police stepped in after a court order that was made in an effort to end the protest because of its disruption to daily life. "All my Muslim brothers are united on this issue and we are supporting these people who are protesting", Gulam Kiyani, Islamabad resident, said. Some protesters could be seen throwing stones at police. Other injuries included respiratory problems from the tear gas and smoke. Islamabad police used tear gas to disperse the mob.

Five motorcycles and one auto belonging to the police personnel were set alight by the protesters, police said, adding that the vehicles were personal property. Police and civil administrators met to formulate a strategy to resolve the situation.

The protests illustrate the difficulty the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party faces in dealing with religious extremists. "[There were] several thousands of agitators in some locations of the city, where they lit up branches to block the roads", a local reporter, Kiran Nazish, was quoted as saying by the Guardian.

A United States official warned on Saturday against repercussions following the release of Pakistani extremist Hafiz Saeed accused of masterminding a 2008 assault in Mumbai, India.

The protest has also embarrassed the country as a whole because the highway where the sit-in has been organised is part of a vital road network around Pakistan's capital.