ISLAMABAD, November 14: Police have arrested dozens of members of a hard-line Islamist party that has blocked a main entrance to the capital since last week, a provincial spokesman said, in the latest confrontation between religious activists and authorities.
Hundreds of supporters of the Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasoolullah Pakistan party have blocked a main road to Islamabad since Friday,
threatening violence if their demand that the minister of law be sacked is not met. The group blames the minister, Zahid Hamid, for changes to an electoral oath that it says amounts to blasphemy. The government puts the issue down to a clerical error. Pakistan’s blasphemy law has become a lightning rod for Islamists, especially since 2011 when the governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was murdered by a bodyguard for questioning the law that mandates the death penalty for insulting Islam or the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). A spokesman for the Punjab provincial government, Malik Muhammad Ahmed Khan, told Reuters the protests were a “serious inconvenience for people and disturbing public life” in the province that surrounds Islamabad . “The Punjab government has detained dozens of Tehreek-e-Labaik’s activists from various districts,” he said. Labaik spokesman Ejaz Ashrafi said in a statement police arrested hundreds of its workers in a countrywide swoop, mainly in the party’s base in Punjab. Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal late on Monday urged the protesters to call off the sit-in, saying he hoped the government “wouldn’t be forced to take extreme steps”. – Agencies