ISLAMABAD: Four days into their protest outside at D-Chowk, supporters of the former Punjab governor’s assassin have agreed to call off their sit-in and disperse following a ‘successful’ round of negotiations with the government, Express News reported on Wednesday.
According to sources, the government has agreed to some of the demands of pro-Mumtaz Qadri supporters, which include the release of non-violent protesters, no amendment in blasphemy laws, and withdrawal of cases against ulema to be considered, among others.
However, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar denied any written agreement with the demonstrators.
“No written agreement or otherwise was reached between the protesters’ leaders and the government, neither anyone from the government was mandated to do so,” he said while speaking at a news conference after successful negotiations with the representatives of some religious parties.
Several thousand protesters had marched in Islamabad Sunday, clashing with security forces before setting up camp outside key government buildings along the capital’s main Constitution Avenue.
No one will be allowed to hold protest at D-Chowk: Nisar
The interior minister said the government will not allow any person or party to hold political rallies or protests in the Red Zone area of Islamabad.
“I as an interior minister have decided it will be prohibited from now on to hold rally or political conferences at the D-Chowk area,” he said.
Talking about the protests, the country’s top security czar said a few violent people had used the situation to politicise the matter. “Some scholars had decided to mark the 40th day of Qadri’s execution peacefully, but miscreants took an advantage of the situation and started marching towards Red Zone.”
He went on to say, “Time has come that we decided people or party who threaten the state by occupying this area will not be allowed to do so.”
Commenting on those who have been arrested during the four-day protests, Nisar said whoever broke the law will be prosecuted accordingly.
“Every single person who broke the law, many of whom have been arrested, will be prosecuted. However, the bystanders or people who were not involved in breaking of law will be released soon,” he said.
Earlier during the day, protesters said they would not end their days-long sit-in and were “willing to die”, as armed security forces readied to clear the camp.
The protesters – who numbered some 25,000 at their peak – had gathered in support of Qadri, who was hanged in late February five years after he assassinated later Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer over his calls to reform the country’s blasphemy laws.
The government gave the demonstrators an ultimatum to leave late Tuesday, but it went unheeded, prompting the government to issue a second call saying security forces would begin an operation to clear the area Wednesday morning.
“If the protesters do not disperse peacefully tonight, then we will evict them in the morning in front of everyone,” Nisar told reporters late Tuesday.
A police source said more than 7,000 security forces were poised to clear the sit-in, including the paramilitary Rangers and Frontier Corps with reinforcements from the Punjab Police.
Army troops had been standing guard at government buildings near the protest camp.
Qadri’s hanging, hailed as a “key moment” by analysts in country’s war on religious extremism, has become a flashpoint for the deep divisions in the conservative Muslim country.
His funeral earlier this month drew tens of thousands in an extremist show of force that alarmed moderate Muslims in the country, while the call to hang Bibi along with the Easter attack in Lahore has underscored a growing sense of insecurity for Pakistan’s minorities.
“It’s a sense of great grief, sorrow and fear,” Shamoon Gill, spokesperson for the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, told AFP.
The Lahore blast had left Christians feeling that “no place is safe”, he said, while the “mob situation” in Islamabad was “dangerous”.
“They are a serious threat to Asia Bibi’s life… there is a chance the government could bow down to pressure on this issue,” he warned.