Published : 2013-01-15 19:49
Updated : 2013-01-15 19:49
ISLAMABAD (AFP) ― Pakistani police fired tear gas and gunshots could be heard as a growing crowd of protesters converged on parliament on Tuesday, throwing stones at security forces, an AFP reporter said.
The protesters are followers of Canadian-Pakistani cleric Tahir-ul Qadri, who led a two-day protest march into the capital Islamabad overnight to demand a peaceful “revolution” and the dissolution of parliament.
It was not clear who fired the gunshots. An AFP reporter saw police fire tear gas shells at the crowd. Protesters were brandishing sticks and had pelted stones at police around 500 meters from parliament.
The AFP reporter said protesters smashed vehicle windows.
They continued their march and reached the edge of the capital’s “Red Zone,” which houses parliament and other key buildings.
A large number of security forces have been deployed, and shipment containers and barbed wire installed to stop protesters coming closer to Parliament House.
One of the organizers of the march accused the authorities of trying to provoke them into violence.
“We were peaceful, we want to be peaceful, police fired tear gas and gun shots without any reason,” Muzamal Ahmed Khan said
“This was the government’s conspiracy, we are not violent people. We have come here for a peaceful protest,” he said.
Qadri gave the elected government, whose five-year mandate ends in March, until 11:00 a.m. to dissolve parliament.
“After that, the people’s assembly here will take their own decision,” he said, shouting and gesticulating from behind a bullet-proof box.
His demand for the military to have a say in a caretaker administration and for reforms has been seen by critics as a ploy by elements of the establishment, particularly the military, to delay elections and sow political chaos.
Qadri’s followers dismantled a first barricade of shipping containers separating the initial venue of the protest from parliament and other sensitive buildings in the government and diplomatic enclave.
His supporters say his calls to end corruption and implement reforms could be the solution to endless problems in Pakistan, struggling with a weak economy, crippling energy crisis and Islamist violence.