Anti-government protesters in Pakistan briefly forced state TV off the air amid continuing clashes with police and renewed calls for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s resignation.
Today’s violence marks an escalation of demonstrations that had been mostly peaceful until Saturday night when protesters tried to storm Sharif’s residence in Islamabad. At least three people reportedly died and 500 were injured amid clashes with police. Sharif has refused to step down.
Here’s more from The Associated Press:
“On Monday, protesters and police clashed in various areas of the city’s Red Zone, a sprawling complex of government buildings and grassy lawns in the center of Islamabad. The protesters, armed with clubs and many wearing gas masks, hurled rocks at police. Five police officers, including a senior Islamabad police chief, and three protesters were taken to hospital, bleeding.
“The protesters made it to a gate that surrounds the prime minister’s residence, where they were met by paramilitary Rangers and army troops.
“They also stormed into the building of the Pakistani state broadcaster, located in another area of the Red Zone, and forced the television briefly off the air. Inside the state TV building, the protesters moved through the corridors with sticks and clubs, smashing equipment as visibly nervous employees looked on.”
John Boone, The Guardian‘s correspondent in Pakistan, was on NPR’s Morning Edition today explaining the roots of the unrest:
“There are actually two groups of protesters — one led by the former cricket star Imran Khan, who’s subsequently become a politician, and the other led by a man called Tahir-ul-Qadri, who is a Muslim cleric with a wide following in Pakistan and indeed around the world. They have slightly different demands. Imran Khan believes that the elections last year, which Prime Minister Sharif won in a landslide, were rigged against him, so he wants fresh elections. The Muslim cleric, Qadri, he seems to think that Pakistan’s democratic setup is irredeemably corrupt. He wants it swept away and what he calls a national government of technocrats to take the reins and introduce reforms without the influence of a corrupt political class, as he sees it.”
Most international observers say that while there were some irregularities in Pakistan’s elections in May 2013, they were not widespread enough to change the result.
Still, Boone says, “there’s a high degree of anxiety” in Pakistan over the future of Sharif’s government. Add to this mix, the military, which has ruled Pakistan for most of the time after the state’s creation in 1947. Boone says the military is playing the role of “neutral arbitrator” for now despite its poor relationship with Sharif.
“If there’s an unconstitutional coup or change of power, then they risk jeopardizing up to $3 billion of U.S. aid,” Boone says. “They will have to become more and more involved in politics when they want to focus on military operations against Pakistan Taliban. So, for the time being, they are treading this very careful line of trying to remain independent.”