Pakistan launches crackdown on religious protesters, setting off violent clashes

Police clash with protesters of the Tehreek-i Labaik Yah Rasool Allah Pakistan religious group during a protest in Islamabad

Police clash with protesters of the Tehreek-i Labaik Yah Rasool Allah Pakistan religious group during a protest in Islamabad

Separately, Pakistan's telecom authority also banned access to social media networks like Twitter, YouTube, and Dailymotion in an attempt to prevent coverage of the standoff between the Islamist protesters and authorities. A major highway has been blocked by the protestors leading to inconvenience for thousands of commuters. Government officials were not immediately available for comment on the situation.

The interior ministry on Saturday evening issued a notification regarding the deployment of Pakistan Army in the federal capital after fierce clashes between security forces and Tehreek-e-Labaik activists turned violent.

The amendment was deemed a "clerical error" by the government and was rectified.

Police stepped in after a court order that was made in an effort to end the protest because of its disruption to daily life.

Islamist party activists have clashed with security forces for a second day on the outskirts of Islamabad, burning vehicles before withdrawing to a protest camp they have maintained for almost three weeks.

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Local media reported that about 150 protesters in Islamabad had been arrested by police, who used water cannon, rubber bullets and tear gas.

The violence spread to several other Pakistani cities as other demonstrators took to the streets in solidarity with the Islamabad sit-in. Despite orders from the civilian government to the army on Saturday night to help restore order, no troops were at the scene around the protest camp in Faizabad, on the outskirts of the capital, witnesses said.

About 8500 elite police and paramilitary forces took part in the operation to clear the Faizabad Interchange.

Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) ordered all news channels off air.

In a statement, the Army said the police "have not been optimally utilized to its full capacity" and cited a court order prohibiting the use of firearms to disperse the protest.

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Taking note of a worsening situation, military chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa telephoned Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to call for the peaceful handling of the protest, according to a tweet by military spokesman Maj. Security forces had moved to clear it Saturday but were met with stubborn resistance by protesters who torched vehicles and threw stones.

RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal reported on November 26 that protesters also had entered Islamabad's I-8 sector - an area bordering Rawalpindi.

The nationwide protests developed after security forces in the capital launched a crackdown on thousands of religious demonstrators. They confirmed six people were killed in clashes with police at the Islamabad rally.

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A hardline Islamist group which has been blocking a key highway near here in Pakistan for 19 days clashed with the police on Sunday, while the Army took up positions in government buildings, reports IANS.

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The group is from the mainstream Barelvi sect of Sunni Islam, which has the largest Muslim following in Pakistan.

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