Pakistani Protesters Clash With Police, Soldiers Secure State TV

Published: September 1, 2014

Pakistani Protesters Clash With Police, Soldiers Secure State TV, Pakistani soldiers and paramilitary forces secured the headquarters of the state television channel PTV in Islamabad on Monday after a crowd of anti-government protesters stormed the building and took the channel off the air.

Protesters led by opposition leaders Imran Khan, a hero cricket player turned politician, and Tahir ul-Qadri, a firebrand cleric, have been on the streets for weeks trying to bring down the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Protests descended into deadly chaos over the weekend, with demonstrators clashing with police in a central area near many government buildings and embassies. Three people were killed.

Sharif, who was toppled by the army in a 1999 coup but staged a comeback with a big election win in May last year, has refused to quit while protest leaders have rejected his offers of talks, creating a dangerous deadlock.

Clashes broke out early on Monday and continued sporadically throughout the day. The state PTV channel and its English-language PTV World service were taken off the air after protesters stormed its headquarters.

A PTV source told Reuters the protesters had occupied the main control room and smashed some equipment. Uniformed members of a paramilitary force and soldiers later secured the building and the station later came back on the air.

In the nuclear-armed nation where power has often changed hands through military coups rather than elections, the army is bound to play a key role in how the conflict unfolds but it has not directly intervened, apart from meeting the protagonists and calling on them to show restraint.

Army chief General Raheel Sharif met Prime Minister Sharif on Monday, but it was unclear what they discussed.

Defense Minister Khawaja Asif told Reuters the government was preparing to launch a selective crackdown against protesters, possibly later on Monday, and warned demonstrators against storming government buildings.

“The writ of the state must be enforced. We hope to make a decisive move sometimes later today, not in the evening but even before that,” he said. “I personally feel that the next few hours will determine the course of coming events.”

Protesters have camped out in Islamabad since mid-August, paralyzing life in the center of the capital and creating massive traffic jams. The protest site, where many sleep rough, is littered with rubbish and reeks of human waste.

How the crisis ends will be ultimately decided by the army. If the protests get out of hand, the military could step in decisively, imposing a curfew or even martial law.

There is also a question mark over how much protest leaders are capable of controlling their own people, many of them frustrated after weeks of hardship and no solution in sight.


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