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ISLAMABAD: As the baton-wielding activists of proscribed Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) on Thursday left for Islamabad, bulldozing all security layers on their way to Gujranwala, the security in Islamabad has been put on high alert to stop their entry in the capital.

The Islamabad Capital Territory Police (ICP) have erected blockades on main entry points to the capital as the TLP activists have threatened to march towards the French embassy in Islamabad, as they have been demanding expulsion of French ambassador to Pakistan.

In a meeting which took place at the Interior Ministry, the sources said, Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed categorically conveyed to the TLP leadership that all their demands could be met except of the expulsion of the French ambassador.

They said that the leadership of TLP kept pressing for their demands, but the government made it clear that their demands except expulsion of the ambassador may be considered, if they called off their protest and 'march' onto Islamabad.

However, the talks between the government and the TLP leadership once again failed on Thursday as both sides were not ready to show any flexibility. After the meeting, in a tweet, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary said that there will be no talks with proscribed TLP unless they call off their sit-in and hand over those involved in killing of policemen during the last two days.

He called upon the senior leadership of TLP, as well as, their activists to go home, if they are patriotic citizens, adding those who are bent upon challenging the writ of the state will be dealt with an iron hand.

A TLP spokesperson also confirmed that talks were held with the government in Islamabad, but he declined to reveal who represented the TLP in the meeting. The people in the twin cities faced great hardships due to closure of main roads leading to the capital as police have placed heavy containers at Faizabad and some other entry points where the TLP activists are going to stage a sit-in before marching onto Islamabad.

Thousands of TLP activists reached Gujranwala on Thursday to press the government to immediately release their party leader Saad Rizvi, as well as, expelling French ambassador.Meanwhile, in order to stop the rally, the authorities blocked major thoroughfares such as the Murree Road and adjacent highways with containers and dug trenches across GT Road.

Multiple roads have been closed for the third day as educational institutes, offices, banks, and shopping malls in the affected areas remained shut. A senior government official on condition of anonymity said that for the time being, the government has changed its strategy in the wake of Wednesday's bloody clashes in which four policemen and as many TLP activities were killed and over 400 injured, including policemen.

He said that the TLP activists who are en-route Faizabad were not stopped as the government is still showing flexibility on the marchers, adding if they went ahead with their planned protest, the use of force will be the last option.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has called a high-level National Security Committee (NSC) meeting today (Friday) to discuss the internal security situation in the wake of the protests.

All services chief and ministers of key ministries will attend the meeting. Fawad Chaudhry tweeted that the NSC meeting will discuss how to "deal with the situation arising out of the illegal activities by the banned group".

"Other issues related to national security will also be discussed in the meeting," he said. Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari said the government would deal with the miscreants with full force.

"Killing of policemen and other (law enforcement agencies) and any act of terrorism by the TLP or any group will be dealt with the full force of the law. Restraint by the government so far should not be mistaken as weakness. Let there be no ambiguity on that count," she added.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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