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Sheikh Rashid, Noorul Haq Qadri to meet TLP workers tonight for third round of talks

Sheikh Rashid, Noorul Haq Qadri to meet TLP workers tonight for third round of talks

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid and Religious Affairs Minister Pir Noorul Haq Qadri will meet workers of the recently proscribed Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) at 10pm tonight for the third round of talks, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said on Monday.

The first round of talks between the Punjab government and workers of the banned party took place yesterday after day-long clashes between TLP workers and law enforcers. The second round concluded earlier today, Chaudhry said in a tweet.

Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar and provincial Law Minister Raja Basharat represented the government in the second round, according to Chaudhry.

The TLP has put forth four demands: the expulsion of the French ambassador over President Emmanuel Macron's explicit backing of blasphemous cartoons, the release of party chief Saad Rizvi, the removal of the ban on the party and the release of activists arrested as well as the FIRs against them to be revoked.

On Sunday, Punjab police said the violence occurred after "miscreants" — an apparent reference to TLP workers — attacked a police station and abducted the DSP, adding that it acted only in "self-defence".

"Today in the early morning, miscreants attacked Nawankot Police Station where Rangers and Police officers were trapped inside the police station and DSP Nawankot kidnapped and taken to the markaz," the police said in a statement, referring to the TLP headquarters.

FIR registered

Meanwhile, police registered a first information report (FIR) against 23 TLP workers for "kidnapping the DSP, causing damage to government property, spreading fear and terror in the area through firing, and throwing petrol bombs and acid-filled bottles inside the police station".

In the FIR, the complainant Mohammad Waqas said that he was present inside the Nawankot police station when workers of the banned TLP gathered outside in a large number and started chanting slogans.

"They set the gate on fire and pushed it so it fell inwards. They started pelting stones inside the premises of the station and throwing petrol bombs and acid-filled bottles. Around 250-300 workers armed with weapons and sticks entered the station and started damaging the motorcycles parked inside. They also vandalised the offices of the DSP and SHO."

The FIR said that when the DSP tried to talk to the workers, they tortured him instead of listening to him. They took the DSP and other employees hostage and moved them amid intense firing and the presence of 2,500-3,000 TLP workers, it added.

The FIR was registered under the Anti-Terrorism Act as well as Sections 365 (kidnapping or abducting with intent secretly and wrongfully to confine a person), 324 (attempt to murder), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), 452 (trespassing after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restraint), 427 (mischief causing damage), 186 (obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions), 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object), 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy), 290 (public nuisance), 291 (continuance of nuisance after injunction to discontinue), 379 (theft) and 109 (punishment of abetment if the Act abetted committed In consequence and where no express provision is made for its punishment) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government also issued a notification to "freeze the movable/immovable assets" of the TLP and individuals associated with the organisation. As a result, TLP offices in Peshawar and Charsadda, and a madrassah associated with the party were sealed, according to officials.

The action comes days after the government banned TLP under Section 11B(1) of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997.

Protest and strikes

On Monday, rallies from different areas of Rawalpindi converged outside the public secretariat of the interior minister's party, known as Lal Haveli, to protest and chant slogans against him.

The protesters also burned posters of Rashid's nephew, MNA Sheikh Rashid Shafeeq.

Crime Investigation Agency (CIA) SP Tariq Mehmood reached the area along with a contingent of police and tried to negotiate with the protesters to disperse.

A view of a deserted market in Lahore. — Photo by Imran Gabol
A view of a deserted market in Lahore. — Photo by Imran Gabol

Meanwhile, businesses in several cities, including Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta remained closed after Mufti Muneebur Rehman, former chairman of the Ruet-i-Hilal Committee, late Sunday announced a nationwide strike against the government's handling of the situation in Lahore.

In Lahore, the Gulberg Main Market, Origa Centre, Anarkali Bazaar, Urdu Bazaar, Lohari Gate Market as well as furniture and jewellery shops remained closed. The Tajir Ittehad and the Anjuman-e-Tajran groups had called for the strike.

The Anjuman-e-Tajran Rawalpindi also announced a strike in support of the ulema as a result of which Raja Bazaar, Liaquat Market and other business centres remained shut.

In Peshawar, traders at the historical Qissa Khwani Bazaar kept their shops closed while people also protested in front of the Khan Rizq police station, demanding the removal of the interior minister.

Traders Union of Balochistan also supported Mufti Muneebur Rehman's strike as business centres in the city remained partially closed.

A peaceful but partial strike was observed in Karachi as well. All major businesses and commercial centres remained closed while traffic was also less than normal, according to officials, traders and witnesses.

"No traditional way was adopted to force the trade and shopping centres to close instead, the shopkeepers themselves closed their business as they have 'emotional attachment' with the issue," head of All Karachi Tajir Ittehad Atiq Mir told Dawn.

He said all major markets in Saddar, Old City areas like Jodia Bazaar, Tariq Road, Bahadurabad, Clifton, Zamzama etc remained closed.

Additional reporting by Tahir Naseer in Rawalpindi, Sirajuddin in Peshawar and Imtiaz Ali in Karachi.

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