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Pressure mounts on Centre to end sit-in
By Tariq Butt / AP November 21, 2017
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ISLAMABAD: A court has granted the government three more days to find a way to clear a rally near the capital, Islamabad.

Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said on Monday that he pleaded with the court, saying that any use of force could cause “instability” in the country.

Two previous deadlines given to the rally organisers — the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah party — have expired.

The rally began two weeks ago. The demand the removal of Law Minister Zahid Hamid over a recently omitted reference to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in a constitutional bill.

The protesters have camped out at a main intersection outside Islamabad, disrupting life in the city. The court has issued notices to administration for Thursday on non-compliance of earlier order for clearance of the intersection.

Iqbal appeared before the Islamabad High Court (IHC) after being summoned by it for the failure of the government to evict the protesters from Faizabad intersection, connecting the capital with Rawalpindi, by Nov.19 as ordered by the court.

Justice Shaukat Siddiqui issued show-cause notices to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Islamabad, the interior secretary and the capital’s Chief Commissioner over non-compliance of his order.

The judge sought reply from Iqbal on the government’s failure to implement his order. Iqbal told the court that several religious parties and groups have approached the government, offering to peacefully resolve the issue.

Justice Siddiqui asked when the court had already passed an order stating that the demonstrators will not be allowed to occupy any location other than Democracy Park and Speech Corner, why were the protesters not asked to move to the designated area.

Iqbal said that the religious groups behind the rally had assured the government that they would only record their protest and leave. But they staged a sit-in. He appealed for a 48-hour stay to comply with IHC order.

The judge allowed this time but warned that the interior ministry will be held responsible for the consequences. He said that the court will initiate contempt of court proceedings against those who did not comply with the order.

Iqbal said that as interior minister he took complete responsibility of the security forces not complying with IHC orders to disperse demonstrators by force, adding that he wanted to find a peaceful solution.

Senior police officials told the court that the political leadership was pursuing dialogues with the protesting religious group.

Justice Siddiqui observed the sit-in has partially paralysed normal life in parts of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, and reiterated that the court could not ignore rights of 8 million people. He said the law and order situation came about due to the incompetence of the Islamabad administration.

When asked about the talks between the protesters and government, the officials said they could not provide details in an open court, to which the judge replied that they will have to say everything in open court.

The justice said he already knew what the government’s reply would be. “All you will say is that the demonstrators are armed. If that is the case then address the nation and inform them that you are unable to fulfil your duties.”

Iqbal later told reporters that he was hopeful that the issue will be resolved within the next 24 hours.

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