The proscribed Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) warned on Sunday that its workers will stage a sit-in in Muridke, where they are currently encamped, and then move to Islamabad by Tuesday evening if their demands are not met.
"The government has gone back on its word thrice. This time we will sit and wait," said a statement issued by the proscribed group's leadership council on Sunday.
"No one will go home until the entire TLP leadership, including chief Saad Hussain Rizvi, comes to the container and makes an announcement," said the statement. "Even if a member of the council says go home without Saad Rizvi, you may shoot that leader too," it added.
The statement quoted Mufti Wazir Rizvi as saying that the proscribed group would wait until Tuesday evening for the government to meet its demands. "If our demands are not met by Tuesday evening, we will leave for Islamabad from here," he said.
Mufti Wazir further warned that the group's demands could increase if the government failed to meet them by Tuesday.
Negotiations with govt
Earlier on Sunday, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the proscribed group will not proceed with its march towards Islamabad as negotiations had "almost" succeeded.
Speaking to Dawn News, the minister said the TLP workers would continue their sit-in till Monday or Tuesday "but will not head towards Islamabad".
On Saturday, the relatively less-equipped and poorly trained workers of the proscribed TLP had managed to bulldoze all security layers of the Lahore and Sheikhupura police and entered Gujranwala while chanting slogans and calling other activists to join them.
However, they had slowed down the march after leaving Lahore, and decided to spend the night in the suburban town of Muridke on GT Road.
The minister said that detained TLP workers, along with those placed on the Fourth Schedule, would be released. He said under an agreement signed with the TLP earlier, the issue of expelling the French ambassador will be taken to parliament for debate.
He said that a delegation from the proscribed group will arrive at the interior ministry on Monday for talks. "We will resolve their issues in a day or two," he said.
'Will take issue of French envoy's expulsion to NA'
In a press conference in Islamabad later in the day, the interior minister said that the issue of expulsion of the French ambassador will be presented in the National Assembly.
"Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri and I have signed agreements with the TLP. We will take the issue of the French ambassador's expulsion to the National Assembly and ask the speaker to form a committee."
He said the French ambassador was not present in the country at the moment, adding that the TLP's objection was justified as there had been no progress on the accords for six months.
"They are political people and they have the third-highest vote bank in Punjab. They reserve the right to make any statement," he said, referring to the group's claim about the number of workers arrested by law enforcers.
The minister said that political parties had the right to stage protests, but said that the government should be "flexible". "I believe in reconciliation and the government is supposed to show flexibility [...] we should try to take the country towards the path of improvement."
Responding to a question from a reporter, the minister said that the government "had not banned the TLP". "They are contesting elections and we did not approach the Supreme Court," he said.
However, a journalist interjected and asked why the TLP is then referred to as "proscribed" in media reports. "It is written with their name because we've declared them so," the minister said.
When asked whether the government was releasing TLP chief Saad Rizvi, Rashid simply said, "We are working on it". He added that he had held a meeting with Rizvi to discuss the current issues.
The minister hoped that the TLP supporters who had taken to the streets in Muridke would peacefully go home after talks concluded successfully.
March pierces through multi-tier security in Lahore and Sheikhupura
On Saturday, TLP protesters had removed several containers from GT Road on the Ravi bridge, the last main security point of Lahore police using a crane, and entered Sheikhupura from where they marched towards Gujranwala after violent clashes with the law enforcement agencies at Kala Shah Kaku.
When multiple security strategies failed, the Gujranwala police dug up a 12-foot-deep ditch and filled it with water as a preventive measure to stop the violent protesters besides making heavy deployment.
The TLP’s Central Shura (committee) had also refused to talk to a delegation of federal and provincial ministers, saying the federal government could not have it both ways: negotiate peace and shell them simultaneously.
The Shura took this stance late on Saturday as a three-member team comprising ministers Sheikh Rashid, Pir Noorul Haq Qadri and Ali Amin Gandapur arrived in the city to kickstart dialogue with the TLP leadership.
The two-member Punjab government team comprised Law Minister Raja Basharat and Minister for Prosecution Chaudhry Zaheeruddin joined their federal colleagues to thrash out a strategy. They reportedly sent an emissary to the incarcerated TLP chief Saad Rizvi to offer talks.
3 policemen martyred in clashes with TLP workers
On Friday, three policemen were martyred and several others injured in clashes with TLP workers.
Chauburji, Lower Mall and surrounding areas turned into battlefields with videos of the clashes showing police firing teargas shells to disperse the protesters who in return pelted the law enforcers with stones. Many TLP workers carrying clubs appeared to be fighting back when the riot police tried to disperse them.
In a statement, Lahore DIG (Operation) Spokesperson Mazhar Hussain identified two of the slain officials as Ayub and Khalid. The identity of the third official was not ascertained, but a statement from the provincial chief minister stated that three policemen were martyred.
Hussain said that several others were also injured and taken to the hospital in critical condition. "Protesters also hurled petrol bombs on officials," he said, adding that officials tried to prevent them from vandalising and damaging public property.
"The angry mob also used sticks and pelted stones," he said, adding that officials were showing restraint despite the violence.
A TLP media coordinator, Saddam Bukhari, said the police attacked the peaceful rally that was on its way to Islamabad.
In a separate statement, a spokesperson for the banned group said that workers had endured the "worst shelling in history" and were "attacked from all sides" near the Mao College Pul.