Pakistani police launch operation to clear Islamist protest

Rangers have cordoned off the IJP Road Expressway Murree Road and the Faisal Avenue

Fresh protests were also springing up in other cities.

The Federal Minister for Interior chaired a high-level meeting in the presence of Islamabad Chief Commissioner, Inspector General (IG), SSP and Deputy Commissioner, Top security officers from police as well as senior officials of Rawalpindi and Islamabad administrations were present in the discussion.

The protesters want the resignation of law minister Zahid Hamid for altering the declaration of lawmakers with regard to Finality of the Prophethood - a change which the government has already reversed.

Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal told Reuters in a message on Saturday night that the government had "requisitioned" the military assistance "for law and order duty according to the constitution".

The Pakistani government has called on the army to restore order in Islamabad and disperse anti-blasphemy protesters who have been demonstrating in the capital for the past fortnight. "They have fired tear gas shells [at security forces], they also cut the fibre optic cables of cameras that were monitoring their protest". It reported that police arrested around 150 protesters, some with knives and pistols. The interior minister said the protesters had also "contacted India", according to a report in the newspaper.

Twitter has been blocked in Pakistan.

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Markets and shops were closing in the megacity, Pakistan's commercial hub, as alarmed residents stayed inside while clerics called for more demonstrators to come and help protect the dignity of the Prophet Mohammed.

Access to the social media platforms was restored after 3pm. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, head of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the army's media wing, said that Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa telephoned Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and suggested that the sit-in be resolved peacefully. Social media networks including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were also blocked in various parts of the country.

Authorities have hesitated to act against the sit-in, citing fears of violence as the demonstrators have vowed to die for their cause.

The protesters, numbering as many as 2,000, stood their ground, fighting back by throwing stones and beating police with sticks and metal rods in running battles that continued throughout the day.

But their weeks of inaction have sparked the wrath of residents as well as Pakistan's judiciary, with the Supreme Court issuing a blistering statement earlier in the week and the Islamabad High Court threatening to hold officials in contempt.

"Politically driven procrastination has its own costs and this is what the government is paying", analyst Imtiaz Gul said.

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