ISLAMABAD: Residents of the twin cities continued to suffer as major roads at Faizabad and around Red Zone remained blocked due to a sit-in.
A crowd of around 2,500 supporters of firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi — which swelled around the Friday prayers before ebbing again — are camped at Faizabad, agitating on the issue of Khatm-e-Nabuwat. They chanted slogans as speakers addressed them from atop a cargo truck, pledging their lives to protect the blasphemy laws.
The protesters demanded that the government immediately remove Law Minister Zahid Hamid, who some protesters blame for a recent alteration in the Khatm-e-Nabuwat clause. While the government swiftly restored the provisions and apologized, it had failed to placate the protesters.
“Immediately appear before us and beg for forgiveness,” said one speaker.
The Faizabad intersection is the busiest link between the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi and most of the inter-provincial traffic is routed through it.
Its closure since Wednesday has crippled traffic within the twin cities’ and badly affected public life. The Expressway has been shut from Zero Point to Khanna Pul, while Murree Road has been closed from the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium to Rawal Dam Chowk due to the protest.
IJP Road too has been closed from Ninth Avenue to Faizabad.
To keep the protesters from marching towards Constitution Avenue and onto the Diplomatic Enclave, several roads around the high-security Red Zone have been sealed off using massive shipping containers.
Owing to the roadblocks, public transport has remained thin. The metro bus was also suspended.
Attendance at many government offices also remained low due to the lockdown, while several private schools had also declared a holiday on Friday.
Diversions for Chehlum processions in the city also contributed to a deserted look of the city on Friday.
Where are authorities?
While the commuters had to brave one of the worst traffic logjams in the city in recent years, the authorities have been conspicuous in their absence.
The interior ministry did not respond to queries about the situation or whether the government was planning to do anything to resolve the issue.
However, sources in the Islamabad Capital Territory Administration (ICTA) said the rally’s organisers have yet to respond to their requests for opening the roads.
While they have not said much to the ICTA, the rally’s organisers have been in talks with Punjab’s authorities. However, either has yet to offer an end to the blockade.
During his Friday sermon, Rizvi ruled out any talks with the government until it removes Hamid.
The aggressive and stick-wielding protesters expanded their venue on Friday and disrupted traffic beyond their sit-in venue, forcibly stopping cars and public transport vehicles.
Meanwhile, the police have registered another case against the rally’s participants for allegedly assaulting the crew of a private news channel and snatching their equipment.
The newsmen said they were recording a video the rally participants misbehaving with commuters, which angered the protesters.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 11th, 2017.
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