Pakistan - Protests against Zahid Hamid, Pakistani law minister, had gone on for weeks and spread from Islamabad to other cities like Lahore, Peshawar and Karachi, blocking main roads and triggering traffic jams. The Pakistani government has called on the army to restore order in Islamabad and disperse anti-blasphemy protesters who have been demonstrating in the capital for the past fortnight. A court had given the government until November 18 to clear the protests by any means necessary, but attempts at peaceful resolution had failed.
The law minister was accused by the protesters of blasphemy after a reference to the Prophet Muhammad was left out of a revised version of the electoral oath. According to the protesters, he insulted Islam and his actions amounted to blasphemy. He apologized for what he called an error. The Pakistan Penal Code prohibits blasphemy against any recognized religion, providing penalties ranging from a fine to death. From 1987 to 2014, over 1,300 people have been accused of blasphemy; Muslims constitute the majority of those booked under these laws.
According to the reports, at least six people are believed to have been killed when clashes erupted on Saturday and some 200 were injured. Police used rubber bullets and tear gas against protesters but were unsuccessful in dislodging the crowds, who set police vehicles on fire and hurled stones. Cable news channels and social media networks like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were blocked across Pakistan for over 24 hours.
Eventually, the government of Pakistan surrendered to hardliners on Monday morning and accepted their demands for the resignation of the country's law minister Zahid Hamid. Zahid Hamid’s resignation is the latest in a series of government concessions to religious extremists, who have been edging their way further into the political mainstream, the Guardian reports.
Government officials gave way on all the Islamist demands, including freeing arrested protesters and paying for the clean-up operation. In the deal on Monday with Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who heads the Tehreek-e-Labbaik party, the government also agreed to release a report on an investigation into the alteration of an electoral oath declaring the prophet Muhammad as God’s final prophet. Protesters saw the change as appeasing a religious minority, the Ahmadis, who are officially deemed heretic. According to the Dawn newspaper, the protesters have in turn agreed not to issue a fatwa, or Islamic religious ruling, against the minister. Now, reports from Islamabad and other cities say protesters are starting to leave.
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