Pak officials defer crackdown on religious protesters blocking

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Islamabad, November 18 (PTI) Pakistani authorities today postponed operations against protesters led by hard-line clerics who block two busy highways in the capital, given that the earlier deadline for them to peacefully disperse or face an offensive came to an end this morning.

Nearly 2,000 activists from Tehreek-i-Khatm-i-Nabuwwat, Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah(TLYR) and Sunni Tehreek Pakistan (ST) for approximately two weeks have been blocking the Islamabad and Murree Road connecting Islamabad with its only airport and the garrison town of Rawalpindi.

Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said the government decided to give the talks one last chance and convince the protesters to disperse peacefully instead of resorting to force.

“The government is trying to deal with the situation, we will wait for the outcome of the talks with the leaders of the protesters,” he said.

Iqbal said Senator Raja Zafarul Haq will lead the negotiation team and expressed hope that it will succeed.

Hundreds of TLYR supporters have blocked the main road to Islamabad, threatening violence if Justice Minister Zahid Hamid is not fired.

They blame the minister for the changes in an electoral oath (Khatm-i-Nabuwwat or purpose of the Prophecy) that they claim amounts to blasphemy. The government has said that the problem arose because of an administrative error.

The government gave way under pressure and restored the oath to its original form on Thursday after the National Assembly approved the amendment to the law.

The government had been criticized for allowing the protests to be prolonged despite the difficulties faced by travelers, but resisted the use of force due to fear of a violent reaction from extremists.

However, the authorities acted after the Islamabad High Court yesterday ordered the city administration to clear the roads and issued a 24-hour deadline for protesters to disperse. Hundreds of security personnel with riot gear were deployed to take action against protesters