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ISLAMABAD: Dozens of protesters were arrested on Wednesday as they clashed with police in an ongoing crackdown against followers of hardliner Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) chief Saad Hussain Rizvi, seeking his immediate release and expulsion of French ambassador from Pakistan.

The police cleared hundreds of protesters from different parts of twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad as they started crackdown on them when they took to the streets soon after Sehri early in the morning.

A large contingent of police arrived at a metro bus station in Rawalpindi which was occupied by baton-wielding protesters but the police managed to arrest them despite tough resistance.

After the arrest, the police tied the protesters to each other with their shirts and made them parade on the Murree Road for about an hour.

Taking to Twitter, Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat said that all roads in the capital, including exit and entry points, were clear for traffic.

He later said five locations were blocked in Islamabad but the capital police “with extremely limited resources” cleared all of them. “No lives lost. No lethal injuries. Almost no loss of property,” he tweeted.

A heavy police contingent was deployed in Bhara Kahu, Zero Point in front of 15 and Faizabad while all roads leading to the French Embassy were blocked.

According to police officials, the protests have been ended in most places across the country, while a few incidents of skirmishes between the police and protesters have been reported.

The meeting, with Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid in the chair and senior officials in attendance, reviewed the law and order situation across the country, particularly in Islamabad.

On the occasion, Rashid lauded police, Rangers and district administration on getting majority of the areas cleared. Those in attendance praised police officials who lost their lives in the clashes.

The interior minister directed the participants to ensure the writ of the state at all costs. He said that motorways, GT Road, and other major arteries had been reopened for traffic.

He added that Liaquat Bagh, Tarnol, Bhara Kahu, and Rawat had also been cleared for vehicular traffic.

In Rawalpindi, several people have reportedly been injured following clashes with the police. Shelling was reported from the Liaquat Bagh Chowk and Murree Road, with protesters pelting stones on the law enforcement personnel.

The city’s metro-bus track turned into a battleground, with several reportedly injured. The protesters also set properties on fire and were dispersed by Rangers after a baton-charge.

Skirmishes were also reported from Taxila where protesters have managed to continue their sit-ins.

Traffic has reportedly been restored in Karachi and Sahiwal too as police successfully dispersed the protesters.

Clashes have been reported from Multan, with several police officials sustaining injuries in the incidents.

The TLP is protesting against the arrest of its leader Saad Hussain Rizvi, who was taken into custody earlier this week, and blasphemous caricatures published in France.

They have demanded that the French ambassador be sent home and import of goods from that country banned.

The government had reached an agreement with the TLP on Nov 16 to involve the parliament to decide the matter in three months.

As the Feb 16 deadline neared, the government had expressed its inability to implement the agreement and sought more time. The TLP had agreed to delay its protest by two-and-a-half months to April 20.

On Sunday, the party chief, in a video message, had asked the TLP workers to be ready to launch the long march if government failed to meet the deadline. It had prompted the government to arrest him.

Police had swooped on Rizvi at around 2pm on Wahdat Road in Lahore on Monday where he had gone to attend a funeral. Outraged TLP had issued a call for countrywide protests.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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