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TLP calls off protest march against blasphemous caricatures contest

Updated August 29, 2018

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TLP rally heads towards the capital via G.T. Road — DawnNewsTV
TLP rally heads towards the capital via G.T. Road — DawnNewsTV
TLP supporters shout slogans during their march towards Islamabad. — Javed Hussain
TLP supporters shout slogans during their march towards Islamabad. — Javed Hussain
TLP rally heads towards the capital via G.T. Road — DawnNewsTV
TLP rally heads towards the capital via G.T. Road — DawnNewsTV

Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) called off its "decisive march" on Thursday night following a successful round of talks with the government. An announcement in this regard was made by TLP leader Pir Afzal Qadri.

The religiopolitical party was holding a "decisive march" from Lahore to Islamabad against Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders' announcement to hold a competition of blasphemous caricatures. However, the contest was cancelled by Wilders late Thursday night.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi also held a media talk accompanied by TLP leaders and requested them to call off their protest and disperse peacefully following the cancellation of the contest.

The TLP had earlier announced that it will "stay on the streets until either the publication of blasphemous cartoons in the Netherlands ends or the government immediately cuts diplomatic ties with the Dutch".

Comprising hundreds of supporters of the religiopolitical party, the rally started its journey on Wednesday and had neared Islamabad by Thursday night.

The TLP rally, led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi, had passed through Gujar Khan — a city in Rawalpindi district — where TLP Chief Khadim Rizvi addressed the participants.

Khadim Hussain Rizvi is seen at the start of the march. — Courtesy: Khadim Rizvi Twitter
Khadim Hussain Rizvi is seen at the start of the march. — Courtesy: Khadim Rizvi Twitter

Earlier, the rally had made a stop at Sohawa to offer Maghrib prayers before resuming their journey.

Commuters are experiencing heavy traffic jams on routes leading to Islamabad because of the march.

Road accident claims two lives

Two people were killed and four injured when a trailer accompanying the long march participants experienced a brake failure which resulted in two containers crashing into one another, according to police.

The injured were shifted to THQ Sohawa hospital where the condition of one injured was said to be critical.

Security, administrative arrangements in twin cities

The capital administration brought in containers to secure the red zone before the protesters reach there.

According to a notification issued by the Islamabad Capital Territory's (ICT) police chief, force will not be used against the participants of the march, as per directives issued by the interior ministry and Islamabad chief commissioner.

The ICT police had requested 2,000 Frontier Corps (FC) personnel but so far only 700 have arrived to assist them.

Islamabad police officials discuss strategy to deal with TLP rally. — Courtesy: Shakeel Qarar
Islamabad police officials discuss strategy to deal with TLP rally. — Courtesy: Shakeel Qarar

The capital police also requested 1,000 Rangers officials for their aid in case of a security crisis.

According to DawnNewsTV sources, the capital police, following a meeting of its officials, also issued the directives to not let the rally enter the red zone.

Hospitals in Rawalpindi were put on high alert by the district administration.

US Embassy says

The US Embassy issued an alert for its employees, giving them August 30 (today) and August 31 (tomorrow) off "in anticipation" of the TLP protest.

"In anticipation of protests in Islamabad, locally employed US government personnel have been authorised to take liberal leave August 30 and August 31," the embassy's alert said.

The embassy has also advised its employees to keep a low profile, avoid the areas of demonstration and Exercise caution if unexpectedly in the vicinity of large gatherings or protests and monitor the media for updates.

TLP withdraws countrywide protest call

The TLP had earlier given the call of a countrywide protest at 4pm. However, it later retracted the call, with its spokesperson Pir Ijaz Ashrafi explaining: "The protest call was given because our way to Jhelum was blocked but since it was cleared, the call has been cancelled."

He, however, warned that "the option of countrywide protests can still be used if obstacles are created anywhere on their route".

Ashrafi had clarified that the party has not said no to negotiations with the government. "The negotiations have been underway since yesterday but they have not yet been successful," he said.

He had advised the federal government to "talk to TLP as the spokesperson of the Muslims".

"[Right now] the government is talking to us as if it is the spokesperson of the Netherlands," he added.

TLP launches 'march' on Islamabad

TLP activists had kicked off the march on Wednesday afternoon after initially gathering at Lahore's Data Darbar. Reciting na`at and chanting religious slogans, the group crossed Kala Shah Kaku on the G.T. Road by midnight.

Upon its arrival in Kamoke — some 25km from Gujranwala — the Khadim Hussain Rizvi-led rally was given a welcome by its supporters.

Read: Police await govt directives to deal with TLP protest

The TLP workers spent the night in Gujrat and are expected to reach Islamabad capital Thursday night or Friday morning, Dawn reported.

TLP spokesman Pir Zubair Ahmad told Dawn that over 100 buses, “countless” cars and pickup vans joined the march. "The protesters, who are now in thousands, would grow in numbers on the way to destination as many workers and smaller rallies were waiting on the Grand Trunk Road to join the main march throughout the 200-kilometre long journey."

Not revealing the whole plan, Ahmad said, “Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi is leading the march. The entire central executive body is also in the march and so are all leading names of the TLP. They will jointly announce the next plan once we hit the federal capital.”

PM forms committee to resolve matter

Following the rally's departure for Islamabad, Prime Minister Imran Khan formed a four-member committee to resolve the matter.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq, the Punjab Law Minister Raja and Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry comprise the committee, which is scheduled to meet the TLP leaders tomorrow.

"The committee will brief the TLP leaders on measures against blasphemous caricatures," said Qadri.

TLP supporters march towards Islamabad from Lahore on Wednesday. — AP
TLP supporters march towards Islamabad from Lahore on Wednesday. — AP

"The emotions of all Muslims against blasphemous caricatures are the same," Chaudhry, the information minister added. "A joint front is imperative against blasphemy."

He added: "We are trying to devise a joint strategy so that this issue can be dealt with effectively. We desire a peaceful resolution of this matter by the way of negotiations."

The religiopolitical party, meanwhile, has announced that its workers would "stay on the streets until either the publication of blasphemous cartoons in the Netherlands is stopped or the govt immediately ends diplomatic ties with the Dutch".

The blasphemous cartoon contest, scheduled for November, is being organised in the Netherlands by Wilders — a right-wing anti-Islam lawmaker who has been widely criticised for his activities.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has distanced his government from the controversial contest, clarifying that: "Wilders is not a member of the [Dutch] government. The competition is not a government initiative."

FM Qureshi discusses issue of 'blasphemous caricatures' with Dutch counterpart

In a tweet on Wednesday, Foreign Office Spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal said that FM Qureshi spoke with his Dutch counterpart to discuss the issue of "blasphemous caricatures".

"The FM expressed concern on the announcement of [the] abominable and sacrilegious competition by Geert Wilders," read the tweet, adding that the Dutch FM made it clear that his government was neither associated nor supporting the event

First round of negotiations with TLP

The demand for the envoy's expulsion was made during the first round of talks between TLP's top leadership and the government in Lahore.

Qadri and Basharat had represented the government in the meeting, while Muhammad Afzal Qadri, Allama Waheed Noor and Dr Amini from the TLP were also present.

Earlier, the religiopolitical party had urged the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government to not only "discontinue diplomatic and commercial relations with the Netherlands" but also "demand from other Islamic countries to do the same".

The TLP had also demanded that since the said competition's judge is an American national, "therefore, strict measures should also be taken against the US".

TLP's Faizabad stint

The religiopolitical party had attained notoriety after it effectively disrupted daily life in Islamabad for 20 days in November 2017.

Protesters had occupied the Faizabad Interchange which connects Rawalpindi and Islamabad through the Islamabad Expressway and Murree Road, both of which are the busiest roads in the twin cities.

The agitators had believed that during the passage of Elections Act 2017, the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath was deliberately modified as part of a larger conspiracy. The amendment to the oath had been deemed a 'clerical error' by the government and was subsequently rectified through an Act of Parliament.

Nonetheless, TLP had demanded the resignation of key government figures for their role in the 'conspiracy'.

The PML-N government at the time had initiated several rounds of negotiations with the protesters, but failed each time. Under pressure, it had finally launched an operation to disperse the protesters, leaving at least six people killed and scores others injured.

After the botched operation, the government had decided to call in the army for help. However, the army had refused to take action, and the government had turned to negotiations with the protesters and then capitulated by conceding to a number of their demands in return for an end to the protest.