Pakistani supporters of Canadian-Pakistani cleric Tahir-ul Qadri look on during a protest march in Islamabad on January 15, 2013.(AFP Photo / Farooq Naeem)
Pakistani officers scuffled with followers of a cleric at a mass anti-government protest, firing shots in the air to disperse the demonstrators. Thousands gathered in Pakistan’s capital to call for revolution and the resignation of the government.
Followers of Canadian-Pakistani Sufi cleric Muhammad Tahirul Qadri marched through Islamabad as part of a two-day mass protest again government corruption. Qadri demanded that the Pakistani parliament dissolve itself by 11:00am local time (06:00 GMT) on Tuesday.
“Morally, your government and your assemblies have ended tonight,” he said in a public address on Monday. “I will give [the government] a deadline until tomorrow to dissolve the federal parliament and provincial assemblies. After that, the people’s assembly here will take their own decision.”
The situation spiraled out of control when the deadline passed, as scuffles broke out between protesters and the police. Officers fired tear gas shells at the ground and shots into the air to disperse the crowd.
Muhammad Tahirul Qadri, leader of Minhaj-ul-Quran movement speaks before a protest march from Lahore to Islamabad January 13, 2013.(Reuters / Mohsin Raza)
Pakistani supporters of Canadian-Pakistani cleric Tahir-ul Qadri rest during a protest march in Islamabad on January 15, 2013.(AFP Photo / Farooq Naeem)
Pakistani supporters of Canadian-Pakistani cleric Tahir-ul Qadri shout slogans during a protest march in Islamabad on January 15, 2013.(AFP Photo / Farooq Naeem)
Qadri’s supports pelted police with stones and beat them with sticks. Six activists were allegedly injured in the altercation. In an email to AP, Qadri blamed the security forces for the violence, claiming that they attempted to arrest him.
Thousands continued to rally in central Islamabad in support of the cleric after the spate of violence. A city official told Reuters that there were around 30,000 people remaining the streets.
Barricades were set up around government buildings in the center of Islamabad, and additional security personnel have been deployed. Mobile phone networks have also been shut down in the area, as authorities fear cellphones could be used to detonate bombs.
Qadri has demanded that the Pakistani governmental elections scheduled for this spring should be delayed until corruption is stamped out in the current regime.
The Pakistani government warned that they will not concede the cleric’s demands following the outbreak of violence. “We will not accept Qadri’s pressure because his demands are unconstitutional,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik told local television channels
Pakistani supporters of Canadian-Pakistani cleric Tahir-ul Qadri hold placards during a protest march in Islamabad on January 15, 2013.(AFP Photo / Farooq Naeem)
Although Qadri enjoys significant support among Pakistan’s lower- and middle-class, some suspect that he is being backed by the Pakistani military.
The cleric has denied any involvement with the military, although he said that the army could form a transitional government while new rulers are elected, giving rise to speculation over his connections to the military.
“I have no link with military institutions,” he told Reuters earlier. “I am one of the biggest staunch believers… of democracy in the whole world.”
If the Pakistani elections proceed as planned this year, it will be the first time a civilian government has conducted democratic elections in the country’s history.
Pakistani supporters of Canadian-Pakistani cleric Tahir-ul Qadri chant slogans during a protest march in Islamabad on January 15, 2013.(AFP Photo / Farooq Naeem)