Pakistan anti-PM protesters storm state TV

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ISLAMABAD: Hundreds of protesters trying to topple Pakistan’s government stormed the state broadcaster on Sept 01 (Monday), as fresh clashes with police broke out in Islamabad.

Transmission of the main Pakistani Television (PTV) news channel was cut, minutes after an anchor announced that demonstrators had entered the building and “besieged” staff.

Protesters armed with rocks and wooden clubs, earlier clashed with police, hours after the powerful army called for a peaceful settlement of the political crisis that has shaken the nuclear-armed nation.

Opposition groups marched to the capital on Aug 15 to try to oust Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, over alleged election fraud, triggering a crisis that has raised the spectre of military intervention, in a country ruled for half its history by the army.

The army on Aug 31 (Sunday) night, urged the government and protesters to settle their differences peacefully, but warned that it was “committed to playing its part in ensuring security of the state”, after clashes left three dead and hundreds injured.

Violence began on Aug 30 (Saturday) night, when followers of opposition party leader and former cricketer Imran Khan and of populist cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, tried to storm Sharif’s official residence.

Fresh clashes erupted on Sept 01 (Monday) morning, when more than 3,000 demonstrators again tried to march on the building, an AFP journalist at the scene said.

Both Khan and Qadri appeared on the shipping containers that they have used as stages, to urge their supporters not to resort to violence.

An AFP reporter saw more than 300 protesters, many armed with wooden clubs, enter the PTV building, shouting anti-government slogans.

Television footage showed some of them beating a photo of Sharif with sticks and spitting on it.

Pakistan’s last period of military rule, ended in 2008.

The protest leaders claim that the 2013 general election which swept Sharif to power, was rigged, though local and foreign observers rated the polls as relatively fair and credible.

Speaking from the roof of a shipping container on Aug 31 (Sunday), Khan vowed to continue his protest “until our last breath”, adding that he would file murder charges against the prime minister, over the violence.

The weekend clashes left nearly 500 people injured, including some children and nearly 100 police officers.

The protest leaders have drawn thousands to the streets of Islamabad, but their call has not mobilised mass support in a country of 180 million people. — AFP

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on Sept 02, 2014.