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ISLAMABAD/RAWALPINDI: The leaders of religious groups staging a sit-in at Faizabad were issued yet another ‘final warning’ by the capital administration on Friday, after a week of efforts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis failed to yield any results.

The order was issued after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) grilled officials over why Faizabad Interchange had not been vacated.

At the time of filing, another round of talks between the government and representatives of the protesting parties was underway.

The capital administration and police were told to remain on high alert and prepare for possible action against the protesters once the government gave the green light, but no such action had been ordered until the filing of this report.

The notice, issued by the district magistrate, is the fifth such warning issued to leaders of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah, giving them until midnight on Friday to vacate the area they have occupied since Nov 8.

The warning, addressed to Khadim Hussain Rizvi and Pir Afzal Qadri, stated: “You have been repeatedly intimated about the illegality of your protest/sit-in.”

Protest leaders take on judiciary, army in fiery Friday sermon; 14 protesters bailed out of prison

It reiterated that the illegal protest was blocking major roads in defiance of high court orders, and had become a public nuisance.

Since all public gathering and rallies were banned in the capital under section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, any public event required prior coordination and permission from the district magistrate, which had not been issued to the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah.

Therefore, in the light of the directions of the Supreme Court and Islamabad High Court, the protesters were directed to immediately call off the sit-in or shift to the Democracy Park and Speech Corner in Shakarparian after obtaining due approval from the district administration.

“You are once again strictly directed to immediately call off your dharna and clear the roads of Faizabad by 12am tonight,” the warning stated, adding that: “Non compliance will lead to contempt of court and the competent authority will be compelled to imitate strict legal action against the illegal protest.”

A committee of religious scholars, formed by the government for mediation purposes, has reportedly submitted its suggestions to the government two days ago, but sources say those options were not acceptable for the government.

Separate rallies from Islamabad and Rawalpindi also joined the sit-in on Friday, where participants held their third Friday congregation at Faizabad in as many weeks, which was attended by around 5,000 people, police said.

A fiery Friday sermon was delivered by Pir Afzal Qadri, accusing the Supreme Court and the armed forces of supporting other protests but opposing theirs.

Bailed out

At least 14 of the 274 protesters, who were picked up by police following skirmishes around the Faizabad sit-in, have been bailed out of prison.

All those picked up so far have been incarcerated at the Central Jail Adiala to minimize chances of reprisals against individual police stations.

Of the 14 men, seven were released on Wednesday, six on Thursday and one was freed on Friday.

New Town police have also registered a case against leaders of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah and 30 others for kidnapping a policeman, snatching his tear gas gun, clashing with police and injuring three police officials. However, none of the leaders, who are present at Faizabad, have been arrested so far.

The case was registered on the complaint of Sub-Inspector Ahmed Hassan, associated with Sahiwal police.

In the FIR, he stated that he was performing special duty at Faizabad when Maulana Ajmal, Ameer Afzal Qadri, Sheikh Azhar and Haider Noor, along with 30 activists from Tehreek-i-Labbaik attacked the police party with sticks.

Head constable Mohammad Ilyas, Mohammad Bashir and Constable Abdul Majeed were badly injured in the attack, the FIR said, adding that the attackers snatched riot gear from all three personnel.

Police have also impounded seven vehicles carrying food items for protesters in an attempt to cut off their supply lines.

Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2017