Thousands of protesters rally in Islamabad
By Sebastian Abbot and Rebecca Santana, APISLAMABAD--Thousands of supporters of a fiery Pakistani cleric who has been calling for election reforms descended Monday onto the capital, as security officials girded for mass rallies by a movement that has virtually overnight become a powerful but still mysterious force on the political scene.
January 15, 2013, 12:09 am TWN
The dramatic entry into Pakistani politics of Tahir-ul-Qadri, a preacher who until recently lived abroad in Canada and had only a modest local following, has galvanized supporters looking for reforms but worried detractors who fear he'll derail upcoming elections.
Also Monday, thousands of Shiites finally ended a three-day long protest in the southwestern city of Quetta in which they demanded better security following an attack that killed 86 people. They had blocked a main road with dozens of the victims' coffins, and finally agreed to bury their relatives after Pakistan's leaders dismissed the government of surrounding Baluchistan province.
About 15,000 of Qadri's supporters left Sunday in hundreds of vehicles from the eastern city of Lahore, where the headquarters of his Minhaj-ul-Quran organization are located. They are expected to arrive in Islamabad later Monday, as more supporters join the rally along the way.
Television footage showed the marchers crowded into buses and vehicles with Pakistani flags flying as they made their way toward the capital.
The cleric's vaguely worded demands include vetting of political candidates to make sure they're honest and taking steps to even out the political playing field so more people can participate in the political process.
Baluchistan Government Sacked
The protest that ended Monday in Quetta was launched in the wake of a twin bombing at a billiards hall Thursday that targeted members of the minority Shiite sect. The demonstrators demanded the provincial government be dismissed and the army take over responsibility for the city.
Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf said in a televised address shortly after midnight Sunday that the governor, who is appointed by the central government, would take over in Baluchistan, replacing the chief minister elected by the provincial assembly. Also, paramilitary forces will receive police powers and launch an operation against militants behind the billiards hall attack.
Abdul Qayum Changezi, one of the organizers of the protest, said they were ending the demonstration because most of their demands were met. The bodies were being shifted to a graveyard for burial, he said.