Pakistan on edge; protesters storm secretariat, PTV office
Islamabad: Pakistan's powerful Army Chief today met embattled Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to discus the deepening political crisis that has put the country on edge, as hundreds of protesters stormed the heavily-guarded Secretariat and the state broadcaster's office.
Fresh clashes erupted this morning between police and protesters who forcibly entered the Secretariat here after breaking its gate, hours after the military asked all parties to peacefully resolve the deadlock.
With the over two weeks-long political crisis taking a violent turn, the Supreme Court today offered to assist in ending the ongoing political impasse between Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, Tahir-ul-Qadri's Pakistan Awami Tehreek and the ruling PML-N government.
During the hearing of petitions filed against the protest marches, the Supreme Court bench gave a one-hour deadline to PTI's lawyer to inform the court whether they accept its intervention or not. After a brief calm due to overnight rain, the protesters armed with clubs and sticks this morning broke the gate and entered the premises of the secretariat, defying calls from the army personnel not to enter the building. Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas shells to push them back but remained unsuccessful.
The protesters damaged vehicles of employees of the secretariat. Later in the day, hundreds of protesters stormed the Pakistan Television's (PTV) office, blocking its transmission briefly before the army evicted them and secured the building. Protesters barged into the PTV network office, smashing cameras, and entered the control room. Over 800 protesters entered the building. Army personnel reached the headquarters of the TV station and asked the protesters to leave the building immediately.
The army then took control of PTV headquarters and evicted the protesters. The fresh clashes came after an emergency meeting of army corps commanders last night. Reaffirming "support to democracy", the army reviewed with "serious concern", the existing political crisis and the violent turn it has taken, resulting in large scale injuries and loss of lives.
The generals, who have ruled Pakistan for more than half of its history since independence from Britain in 1947, said that the "situation should be resolved politically without wasting any time and without recourse to violent means". Supporters of Khan and Qadri are battling with the police since Saturday night to reach the front of the Prime Minister's House.
The clashes started when both Khan and Qadri asked their followers, camping in front of the Parliament demanding Prime Minister Sharif's resignation, to shift the venue of the protest to the lawns of Premier's House. Meanwhile, Khan, addressing his supporters this afternoon, said the time for Premier Nawaz Sharif's rule has to an end. "We did not ask the army to become the mediators or facilitators in the ongoing political crisis," he said. Condemning the attack on the PTV headquarters, the PTI chief said there is no justification for the attack.
Khan denied that his party men were part of the protesters that had stormed the TV station. "Whoever has entered the PTV headquarters are not our workers. I have not told any worker to proceed towards PM House or enter any building," the PTI chief said.
The protesters who stormed the PTV building were chanting slogans in favour of the Pakistan Army. The demonstrators wrote Qadri's name on the walls of the PTV headquarters, Express News reported. Qadri asked his followers to vacate the building. He told his supporters to never cross the limit set by army personnel. "Strongly obey army orders; these are your limitations," Qadri said.
In the last 48 hours, anti-government protests have morphed the high-security Red Zone from a concert ground to a bloody battlefield, with three people killed and over 550 injured. The protesters have fought pitch battles with the police until the heavily shower forced them to halt pelting stones at them last night. After the rain stopped, the protesters this morning resumed clashes. Dozens of policemen have been injured in the clashes.
Media reports said a case has been registered against Khan for inciting violence and encouraging attack at the security forces and the parliament, a charge denied by him. Khan and Qadri have snapped communications with the official negotiators after the fifth round of talks failed to produce any result last week. Khan wants the PML-N government's ouster over alleged rigging in last year's poll which his party lost, while Qadri wants to bring a revolution in the country. Both the leaders are agitating since August 14