Faizabad, Pakistan – A hard-line Islamist party’s activists clashed with security forces in Pakistan’s capital and other cities on Sunday, officials said, paralyzing Islamabad a day after a failed clearing operation killed several people and wounded some 150.
The religious activists, who accuse a government minister of blasphemy for a change in the wording of an electoral oath, burned several vehicles outside the capital before withdrawing in an uneasy stand-off at a protest camp they have occupied for two weeks, police said.
Despite orders from the civilian government to the army on Saturday night to help restore order, no military troops were at the scene around the protest camp in Faizabad, on the outskirts of the capital, witnesses said.
The military’s press department did not respond to queries about the government’s order.
On Sunday evening, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqabal said the paramilitary Rangers force would be authorized to handle the demonstrations.
At least seven people, including a policeman, were killed on the previous day, when several thousand security forces tried to disperse the protesters, according to local media reports and a provincial official
At least 187 people were wounded in Saturday’s clashes, said the provincial official who asked not to be named. Police superintendent Amir Niazi said at least 80 members of the security forces were among those wounded.
Throughout Sunday, baton-armed supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labaik party blocked several main highways, roads and arteries in major Pakistani cities, paralyzing traffic and daily life.
In the eastern city of Lahore thousands of the Islamists camped outside the provincial parliament and attacked the house of a minister, prompting police to fire teargas shells, a Reuters reporter witnessed.
Just outside Lahore in Faisalabad city, their supporters attacked and tried to torch the house of another minister, police official Niaz Mirza said.
Smoke billowed from the charred remains of a car and three motorcycles burned on Sunday morning near the protest camp.
On Saturday, protesters also torched seven prison trucks, three police vans, a television van and a gas station – all of which were seen still smoldering the next day.
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