ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan announced on Tuesday that the government will clear the D-Chowk of protesters on Wednesday “at any cost”, if they don’t disperse by themselves in the night.
If the protest doesn’t end in the next one hour, “then instead of doing anything in the night we will clear the Red Zone in the morning”.
The Islamabad district administration had issued pro-Qadri protesters gathered outside Parliament House a two-hour notice to disperse.
The legal notice was issued to the religious leaders gathered at D-Chowk by the district magistrate, a copy of which is available with DawnNews. It accused them of attempting “to frustrate the government's drive against terrorism”.
Around 700 pro-Mumtaz Qadri protesters continued to protest in Islamabad's Red Zone on Tuesday, police official Mohammad Kashif confirmed, despite warnings from the government, bringing the most sensitive parts of the capital to a standstill.
“An operation will be conducted if the participants of dharna (sit-in) do not disperse in a few hours,” a security official said.
“Leaders of the protesters have been given a notice in this regard,” he said, adding that they had been given two hours to disperse.
If they do not, he said, “law enforcement agencies shall take action” by removing them.
Heavy contingents of FC, Rangers and Islamabad police have surrounded the Red Zone, DawnNews reported.
However, reports on local media indicate last-minute negotiations are underway between government representatives and leaders of religious parties to reach an amicable solution.
A police source said more than 5,000 security forces would be deployed, including the paramilitary Rangers and Frontier Corps with reinforcements from the Punjab police.
Army troops are already standing guard at government buildings near the protest site.
Buildup to sit-in at D-Chowk
A rally organised by the Sunni Tehreek (ST) saw more than 10,000 charged protesters enter the city on Sunday, damaging buildings and setting fire to the metro station, containers and buses.
A crowd consisting of around at least 25,000 people had attended the chehlum of former Punjab governor Salman Taseer's killer, Mumtaz Qadri, in Rawalpindi's Liaquatbagh earlier that day.
Mumtaz Qadri, an Elite Force commando, was executed at Rawalpindi's Adiala Jail on February 29. Qadri shot Taseer 28 times in broad daylight in Islamabad’s Kohsar Market on January 4, 2011.
Qadri said he killed Taseer over what he called the politician's vocal opposition to blasphemy laws of the country. He was sentenced to death for assassinating Taseer on Oct 1 the same year.
Know more: Taseer's killer Mumtaz Qadri hanged
The protesters, while staging a sit-in in front of Parliament, issued a list of 10 demands under the banner of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool (SAW).
Their demands include the unconditional release of all Sunni clerics and leaders booked on various charges, including terrorism and murder; the recognition of Mumtaz Qadri as a martyr and the conversion of his Adiala Jail cell into a national heritage site; assurances that blasphemy laws will not be amended; and the removal of Ahmadis and other non-Muslims who occupy key posts.
They also demanded the execution of blasphemy accused Aasia Bibi, the woman former Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was killed for defending.
Over 700 protesters were picked up from parts of Islamabad and sent to various jails in Punjab, Dawn Newspaper learnt from officials of the capital police on Monday, and four separate cases were registered against 501 religious workers, including their leadership, under the Anti-Terrorism Act by police.
Tuesday's sit-in continues despite Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Monday night address to the nation during which he warned radical Islamists not to take the government's leniency as a sign of weakness.
The address followed a massive suicide bombing at Lahore's Gulshan-i-Iqbal park in which at least 72 people were killed.
Hours after Sunday's attack, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan Jamatul Ahrar claimed responsibility.
The army responded by launching raids on suspected militant hideouts across Punjab.
More than 200 suspects have been detained in the raids in the past 48 hours, a security official said.
Another official also confirmed the arrests and said most of those detained were suspected to belong to outlawed militant and extremist groups.