Islamabad's district administration's latest "final warning" to protesters camped out at the Faizabad Interchange, lapsed without much ado midnight on Friday as reports made rounds that the government would now initiate action after 7.30am on Saturday morning in case the protesters refused to relent.
The extension in the deadline was made reportedly at the request of negotiators trying to achieve a breakthrough in talks with the agitators.
In an earlier notification, issued by the district magistrate on Friday evening, the protesters had been ordered to disperse by midnight.
In the missive, the district magistrate had noted that for two weeks the protesters have "illegally occupied" the Faizabad Bridge, which connects Rawalpindi and Islamabad. The notification recalled that the participants had been asked to disperse thrice before but to no avail.
"If the participants do not vacate the area by midnight, an operation will be launched against them," the District Magistrate had warned.
All shops, hotels and bus stands had been shut and all routes leading to the area were sealed to curtail collateral damage.
However, DawnNews reported a little after the deadline passed that any action had reportedly been put off till 7.30am on Saturday after negotiators sought more time for a breakthrough with the protesters.
20th case lodged
A case had been lodged earlier in the day in Rawalpindi against the the participants and leaders of the protest for attacking police officials.
The protesters had previously attacked police officers with batons on Murree Road, injuring three constables. According to reports, the protesters had kidnapped Constable Mohammad Abbas and snatched boxes of tear gas shells and anti-riot gear.
A first information report (FIR) was registered in the New Town Police Station on charges of kidnapping, theft, attempted murder, among others.
The FIR nominated the TLY supremo, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, along with other leaders of the protest.
This is the first case against the protesters that has been registered in Rawalpindi. The total number of cases against the participants of the protest have now gone up to 20.
IHC prohibits use of firearms in operation against protesters
Separately, in an order sheet issued by the Islamabad High Court (IHC), Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui asked law enforcement agencies to refrain from using firearms in case a "clearance operation" is carried out against the Faizabad protesters.
Justice Siddiqui nonetheless termed the protest an "intolerable anti-state activity" where derogatory remarks were used for "honourable judges" and "other respectable persons". The judge also condemned the sit-in for paralysing life in the capital for the past three weeks.
He further held the leading figures of the protest responsible for "act[s] of terrorism" and concluded that all state institutions must "act in unison" and take steps to disperse the ongoing sit-in.
Daily life in the capital has been disrupted by protesters belonging to religious parties — including the Tehreek-i-Khatm-i-Nabuwwat, Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) and the Sunni Tehreek Pakistan (ST) — who are calling for the sacking of Law Minister Zahid Hamid and strict action against those behind the amendment to the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath in the Elections Act 2017.
The amendment had earlier been deemed a 'clerical error' and has already been rectified.
The government on Monday scrambled to secure the support of religious leaders and ulema from across the political spectrum in a bid to negotiate a peaceful end to the sit-in.
However, a meeting between representatives of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah and government ministers held at Punjab House was unable to make any breakthrough, as the protesters had refused to budge from their demand for the law minister’s resignation.
Earlier today, the IHC issued a show-cause notice for contempt of court to Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal over his failure to take steps ordered by the court to end the sit-in.
With additional reporting by Tahir Naseer.