LAHORE: Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief Dr Tahirul Qadri, a Canada based Islamic cleric, returned to Pakistan on Monday to try to start what he has called a “peaceful revolution” against the government, as his supporters engaged in violent clashes with police.
He touched down in the eastern city of Lahore after his flight was diverted from Islamabad following violence at the capital's airport that police said left more than 70 of their officers injured.
In January last year Qadri drew tens of thousands of people to a sit-in protest in Islamabad. His return comes at a sensitive time for the government, potentially adding to pressure on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The military is in the midst of a major offensive against Taliban militants in the northwest, and nine people were killed when Qadri's followers clashed with police in Lahore a week ago.
On Monday his supporters, armed with sticks and bricks, clashed with baton-wielding police at Islamabad's airport, where Qadri had been due to arrive on an Emirates flight.
A spokesman for Islamabad police said more than 70 officers were wounded, with several suffering broken bones and head injuries.
The plane was diverted to Lahore “to ensure the safety of the passengers and aircraft,” according to a civil aviation official. But for several hours Qadri refused to get off.
The 63-year-old demanded protection from the military before agreeing to disembark. He finally left the aircraft accompanied by Punjab provincial governor Mohammad Sarwar and opposition politician Chaudhry Pervaiz Ellahi.
Qadri said he held the prime minister and his brother Shahbaz Sharif, chief minister of Punjab, responsible for the killing of his party workers last week, comparing the pair to “Hitler and Mussolini”.
“I will revenge InshaAllah (God willing). I will revenge for the labourers, helpless, poor and martyrs,” he said at a Lahore hospital as he visited those wounded in last week's clashes.
Addressing workers at his residence later, Qadri said he would “announce a date for revolution” shortly. “I will give a sudden call,” he said.
“The rulers will try to run away, but I won't let the looters run away.”
Qadri had led a huge sit-in lasting over four days while the previous Pakistan People's Party (PPP) government was in power, four months before it lost the May 2013 general election to Sharif's party.
He had demanded the early dissolution of the PPP government and the implementation of a caretaker setup backed by the military and judiciary.
But despite intense media interest, the protest had little long-term impact – Qadri ended his sit-in after talks with ministers and the election went ahead as planned.
Qadri is the founding leader of Tehreek-i-Minhajul Quran (TMQ), an organisation with branches in more than 90 countries which works to promote peace and harmony between communities.
His sudden and apparently well-financed emergence last year after years living in Canada was seen by some analysts as a plot by sections of the establishment to delay the elections and regain power – AFP
– Below are our live updates of the event as they unfolded throughout the day