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Supporters of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan chant slogans during a protest against the court decision to overturn the conviction of Aasia Bibi at Mall Road in Lahore (left) on Wednesday. The protesters burn tyres at Faizabad in Islamabad (top right) and Brooks Chowrangi in Karachi 
(bottom right).—White Star
Supporters of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan chant slogans during a protest against the court decision to overturn the conviction of Aasia Bibi at Mall Road in Lahore (left) on Wednesday. The protesters burn tyres at Faizabad in Islamabad (top right) and Brooks Chowrangi in Karachi (bottom right).—White Star

ISLAMABAD: Violent protests erupted in different parts of the country on Wednesday as activists of various religious parties and groups took to the streets and blocked major roads and intersections through sit-ins and by putting barricades, causing hardship to commuters and people, particularly schoolchildren who remained besieged in their institutions for several hours.

Besides Islamabad, reports of protests from all four provincial capitals and other cities and towns continued to pour in till late in the night.

The protesters, who had gathered at some places even before the announcement of the verdict on the appeal of Aasia Bibi, a blasphemy accused, against her conviction, also cut rail links in different parts of Punjab. Hundreds of passengers remained stranded in different trains and at railway stations for hours.

Allama Iqbal Express and Tezgam were not allowed to leave Lahore railway station, while Quetta Express was halted at Kot Lakhpat, Green Line at Kot Radha Kishan, Jaffer Express at Sara-i-Alamgir and Lahore-Islamabad railcar at Lalamusa stations.

Lahore witnessed two sit-ins on The Mall and outside Data Darbar, resulting in traffic jams on various city roads for several hours. The Punjab government’s inaction compounded chaos in the city as there were no words from the government how it would deal with the situation.

Roads blocked, flights cancelled, children remain besieged in schools

The Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal — an alliance of five religio-political parties which has representation in parliament and provincial legislatures in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan and supports the parliamentary system unlike other hardliner groups — also announced that it would take out rallies to protest against the Supreme Court decision.

Nearly two dozen activists of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) were arrested in Sahiwal and Okara after clashes with police.

Karachi also descended into fear and panic minutes after the announcement of the SC verdict, leading to sit-ins on main traffic intersections, closure of business centres and suspension of activities by educational institutions. The protesters belonging to religious parties staged sit-ins at over one dozen major spots on main roads in Karachi.

Barring main sit-in at Numaish Chowrangi on M.A. Jinnah Road where a vehicle of a private TV channel was pelted with stones, no untoward incident was reported from any part of the city.

Meanwhile, the Sindh government imposed Section 144 of CrPC, banning rallies and pillion riding till Nov 10.

The enraged activists of religious parties also took to the streets in Hyderabad, Badin, Umerkot, Khairpur, Mirpurkhas and other cities and towns of Sindh, blocking roads and imposing a virtual strike.

In Rawalpindi, five activists were injured and several vehicles torched and damaged during a clash between the protesters and members of a Tableeghi Jamaat at Chakri Interchange on Lahore-Islamabad Motorway. Police said they had arrested six protesters.

They said gunshots were also fired by the violent protesters besides stone-pelting which resulted in injuries to five people and damage to public property. Two of them received bullet injuries while three suffered multiple wounds.

TLP workers blocked the famous Faizabad Chowk — the main intersection between Rawalpindi and Islamabad and the place where they had staged a 20-day sit-in in November last year to protest against the proposed changes in the Khatam-i-Nubuwat declaration for election candidates.

Security of the Diplomatic and Judges Enclaves had already been handed over to Rangers and 300 policemen had been deployed around the Supreme Court building. Security of the Red Zone was also strengthened by deploying 1,500 policemen.

In Peshawar, the TLP activists staged a sit-in at Jamil Chowk on Ring Road. Later, they went to the nearby Pir Zakori flyover and blocked traffic, throwing the city traffic into the worst gridlock.

The protesters also took to roads in Nowshera, Battagram, Charsadda and Haripur districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Hundreds of activists of different religious groups took to the streets of Quetta and other cities and towns of Balochistan. They blocked National Highway at Khuzdar, Hub, Dalbandin, Dera Murad Jamali, Sibi, Chaman and other areas, cutting the province from the rest of the country.

After marching on various roads and streets of Quetta, the protesters gathered outside the local press club where they staged a sit-in for a few hours.

Kalbe Ali and Munawer Azeem from Islamabad, Mohammad Asghar and Aamir Yasin from Rawalpindi, Imtiaz Ali from Karachi, Ahmad Fraz Khan from Lahore, Manzoor Ali from Peshawar and Saleem Shahid from Quetta have contributed to the report

Published in Dawn, November 1st, 2018