Authorities block roads into Islamabad as protesters stage sit-in

Demand resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid for changes to an electoral oath


Reuters November 10, 2017
Khadim Hussain Rizvi, leader of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan leads members in shouting slogans during a sit-in in Rawalpindi, November 10, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

RAWALPINDI: Authorities on Friday blocked off roads into Islamabad as a religious party that backs blasphemy laws staged a sit-in on a key highway, demanding the resignation of a minister it blames for changes to an electoral oath.

More than 500 supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan chanted slogans as speakers addressed them from atop a cargo truck, pledging their lives to protect the country's blasphemy laws.

The protesters demanded the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid, whom they hold responsible for the law change, and denounced him as a blasphemer.

"Immediately appear before us and beg for forgiveness," said one speaker.

Two high court lawyers who joined the sit-in said they would work to advance Labaik's agenda in the courts.

"He [Hamid] has insulted the blasphemy laws, the punishment for which is death," said one of the lawyers.

Islamabad child dies on way to hospital due to road blocks by religious group

The ruling Pakistani Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) unexpectedly set off a firestorm last month after voting through the alteration of the oath, among seemingly small changes to the nation's electoral law.

The changes prompted accusations of blasphemy from religious parties and the government retreated, apologising in Parliament for what it called a "clerical" mistake.

But the apology did not satisfy Tehreek-e-Labaik, triggering the sit-in, as the culmination of a march of nearly 400kms from Lahore.

The party rose to prominence in September, after placing third in a by-election in Lahore, edging out a major opposition party to pick up six per cent of the vote.

Last month, it gained nearly eight per cent in a by-election in Peshawar.

While Tehreek-e-Labaik is unlikely to break out of single digits in coming votes, its rapid rise could present a challenge for the PML-N.

 

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