Adelaide Now: Pakistan police fire tear gas at protest

Pakistan police fire tear gas at protest

By Sajjad Tarakzai
January 15, 20134:55PM

POLICE have fired tear gas at protesters in Islamabad as clashes erupted with followers of a cleric who led a march on the city demanding a peaceful "revolution" and the dissolution of parliament.

Thousands of supporters of Canadian-Pakistani cleric Tahir-ul Qadri converged on parliament on Tuesday after arriving in the capital overnight following a 38-hour march from the eastern city of Lahore.

The 61-year-old Qadri has given the elected government, whose five-year mandate ends in March, until 11.00am (1700 AEDT) to dissolve parliament or face a "democratic revolution".

As the deadline approached, an AFP reporter saw police fire tear gas shells at the crowd, after protesters brandishing sticks pelted stones at police around 500 metres from parliament.

The AFP reporter said demonstrators smashed vehicle windows as they continued their march and reached the edge of the capital's "Red Zone", which houses parliament and other key buildings.

Gunshots were heard though it was unclear who fired them. Both protesters and the authorities accused each other.

Eight police were injured in the clashes, Doctor Tanvir Afsar Malik, a spokesman for the Federal Government Services Hospital, told AFP.

Qadri spokesman Shahid Mursaleen accused police of opening fire as they tried to arrest the cleric on Tuesday morning.

"They opened fire on Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri's car and tried to smash the windows," he said.

Another march organiser, Muzamal Ahmed Khan, accused the authorities of trying to provoke them into violence.

"We were peaceful, we want to be peaceful, police fired tear gas and gunshots without any reason," Muzamal Ahmed Khan told AFP.

"This was the government's conspiracy, we are not violent people. We have come here for a peaceful protest."

But Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the protesters were carrying weapons and had opened fire on police. He accused Qadri of "bulldozing" an agreement with the authorities for a peaceful rally.

Security forces helicopters circled overhead as the protesters - said by a senior security official to number more than 25,000 - gathered near parliament.

Qadri's demand for the military to have a say in a caretaker administration and for reforms has been seen by critics as a ploy by elements of the establishment, particularly the armed forces, to delay elections and sow political chaos.

The cleric's followers dismantled a first barricade of shipping containers separating the initial venue of the protest from parliament and other sensitive buildings in the government and diplomatic enclave.

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