Violent protests by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a radical religious party, that brought major cities, including Karachi and Lahore, to a standstill, have entered their third day across Pakistan.
According to Radio Pakistan, Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed said that the government will “deal with an iron fist with those who take the law into their own hands.”
Chairing a meeting in Islamabad to review the law and order situation, he directed law enforcement agencies to ensure the writ of the state at all costs. He said that motorways, GT Road and other roads have been cleared for traffic, adding that Pakistan Rangers have done an excellent job in collaborating with the police and the administration in this regard.
The TLP supporters took to the streets across Pakistan to protest the arrest of their leader Saad Rizvi. The TLP has been demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador from Pakistan over the blasphemous cartoons published in France last year.
The protests turned violent as the religious activists clashed with police officers, damaged public property, and blocked major roads in all cities. At least four people, including two policemen, died in the clashes, while over 200 officers sustained injuries.
On Tuesday, the federal cabinet had given clearance to the deployment of the Pakistan Rangers across Punjab to round up the protesters and restore law and order.
Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry had said the government was willing to hold talks with the TLP, but violence and dictation will not be tolerated.
Addressing a press conference after the cabinet meeting, he said that every group has a right to protest, but no group or party can dictate actions to the government. No group is allowed to take the law in their own hands, he had added.
Punjab government has also ordered the deployment of Rangers alongside the police at 16 crucial points of the provincial capital amid religious party’s protest. The paramilitary force will be positioned alongside police outside CM Secretariat, GOR-I, Civil Secretariat, Governor House, Punjab Assembly, and the IG Office.
Meanwhile, commuters across Pakistan continue to face problems on roads. In Lahore, at least 16 points are closed due to protests. Lahore’s traffic police has advised people to refrain from unnecessary travel.
“Protests continue in various parts of the city. Citizens are requested to avoid unnecessary travel to the mentioned points,” said the traffic police.
The Punjab Safe Cities Authority (PSCA) has advised people to use FC Underpass, Bhatta Chowk, Scheme Mor, Yateem Khana Chowk, Mohlanwal, Chungi Ammar Saddu, to avoid traffic jams. Other roads that are safe to go through are Thokar Niaz Baig, Shahdara Chowk, Khayaban Chowk, Shahkam Chowk, Mul Pulli, Barki Road, and Aryan Pind, according to Lahore’s city traffic police.
In Rawalpindi and Islamabad, Bhara Kahu, Murree Road, and the twin cities’ Metro stations have also been cleared of protestors. Rawalpindi’s Liaqat Bagh has also been cleared by police to allow traffic to resume.
In Karachi, traffic has been restored in Korangi No 2, Baldia No 4, Hub River Road, Sharae Faisal and Stargate. Earlier, protesters pelted stones at vehicles on Shahrah-e-Faisal near Stargate, and set several vehicles on fire.
Roads in Khanewal, including Multan Road, have been reopened.
Meanwhile, roads leading to the French Embassy have been closed due to security concerns in Islamabad. The area between the SP City office and the diplomatic enclave has also been sealed off. It may be noted that police had last month arrested a man near the embassy who had plans to attack the embassy.