Talks between a government team and Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) chief Hafiz Saad Hussain Rizvi at Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat could not achieve any breakthrough on Saturday night, as the protesters left Lahore to start their long march on the federal capital.
The government’s negotiating team was formed to take stock of the situation in the wake of violent protests in Lahore the other day, and amicably resolve the situation.
The government decided to hold talks with the TLP chief in an attempt to muster his support for calling off the protest and the planned long march on Islamabad, officials of the interior ministry revealed. However, the two sides failed to make any headway in the talks to resolve the stand-off till midnight.
Earlier on Saturday, a high-level meeting was held at the Punjab Safe City Authority in Lahore to review the situation in the wake of the violent protests in which at least two policemen were martyred and scores of others were injured. The TLP claimed its seven workers died and dozens sustained injuries.
In the meeting, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid decided that a government committee, also including Federal Religious Affairs Minister Pir Noorul Haq Qadir and provincial ministers along with others, would visit Kot Lakhpat Jail and hold talks with Rizvi.
Rashid, who reached Lahore after abandoning his Dubai trip, was briefed by the Qadri, Kashmir Affairs Minister Ali Amin Gandapur, Punjab Law Minister Raja Basharat, the Punjab police chief and other officials about the overall situation and the talks that were already held with the TLP leadership. The interior minister also met with religious scholars to seek their support for normalising the situation.
The interior ministry said that negotiations remained under way at Kot Lakhpat Jail for a few hours but no headway was achieved as both the sides were not ready to back off from their stance. The TLP said that Rizvi refused to hold talks with the government negotiators.
In a statement, the TLP said that the long march would continue until Rizvi comes on the stage and announces to call it off. The statement asked the party workers that they should pay attention only to the announcement made from the rally’s stage.
The statement added that the rally had reached Muridke and after taking rest overnight, it would resume its march towards its destination – Faizabad Interchange, located between the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad – on Sunday morning.
The decision to meet the TLP chief came after supporters of the TLP went on a rampage and managed to remove the containers and other barriers to get out of Lahore’s limits and start marching towards Islamabad.
Seeing that the containers and other barriers didn’t work, the interior ministry officials confirmed that the authorities concerned ordered for digging up a trench near Gujranwala to prevent the protesters from coming to the capital.
The protestors are demanding the release of their chief and expulsion of French envoy. Rizvi was arrested in April after he had threatened a long march to Islamabad if the French ambassador was not deported.Security heightened in Islamabad
Meanwhile, in the twin cities, a curfew-like situation was witnessed as authorities concerned placed containers and other obstacles on various routes, including Murree Road, leading towards Islamabad, to stop the protesters from reaching the federal capital.
The district administration has also deployed heavy contingents of police along Murree Road, which has been sealed from Marir Chowk to Faizabad Interchange. The local administration and police have been provided with 500 Rangers and 1,000 Frontier Constabulary personnel to prevent the march on the capital.
The capital’s administration also issued a traffic alert and instructed the citizens to adopt alternative routes to stay safe and avoid any trouble. Schools, offices, and markets remained closed in the vicinity of the main artery that connects Rawalpindi to Islamabad, while residents of the area were stranded due to the blockades. The Metro Bus service and public transport were also suspended and Rangers took control of the metro tracks.
On the other hand, all roads in Lahore were opened for traffic on Saturday evening after the TLP protesters moved outside the city’s limits on their way to Islamabad. Lahore Deputy Commissioner Umer
Sher Chattha said that all roads in the city were open for traffic and the Metro bus service had partially resumed from Gajju Matta to Mao College.
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