Cleric leads march on Pakistan capital
Qadri demands government resign
ISLAMABAD – A cleric who has fired up Pakistanis angry at perceived government corruption and indifference demanded the country’s political leaders resign in a speech to thousands of his supporters who amassed in the capital early today and clashed briefly with security forces.
The dramatic entry into Pakistani politics of Tahir-ul-Qadri has sparked concern from some that he is seeking to derail elections at the behest of the powerful army. Polls are expected this spring.
Qadri has denied that and insisted his vague demands for election reform are simply meant to root out corruption in the political system.
During a 40-minute speech delivered behind bulletproof glass, Qadri told his supporters that the government’s mandate was finished.
“I give you time until tomorrow to dissolve national and all four provincial assemblies otherwise the nation will dissolve them on their own,” he said. .
Qadri called on the demonstrators to break through the containers blocking them from the government offices and peacefully march toward the protected enclave that is often called the “Red Zone” in Islamabad.
Following his cry, some of the marchers pushed aside the shipping containers that had been placed on the street to block them and walked toward the enclave. There another row of shipping containers and a heavy police presence blocked them from going any farther and the protesters appeared to stop. The rally was widely peaceful until police and protesters clashed briefly in the early morning.
Television footage showed police shooting into the air to push back protesters and a man on the ground being beaten by what appeared to be protesters. Demonstrators threw rocks at a vehicle, while others held up shells and an empty tear gas canister.
Helicopters could be heard circling overhead.
Minister of Interior Rehman Malik said some of the demonstrators had weapons and attacked police with stones.
“Tahir-ul-Qadri has said that the marchers would remain peaceful but police have been stoned and shots were also fired,” he said.
In an email to the Associated Press, a spokesman for Qadri, Shahid Mursaleen, blamed the entire incident on security officials and said police opened fire unprovoked. Qadri has called for vaguely-worded reforms to the electoral system such as making sure candidates for office are free of corruption. His words inspired many Pakistanis who are frustrated with a government that they say has given them nothing but unemployment, electricity blackouts, and terror attacks as its five-year term comes to an end.
© Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.