SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association)-Pakistan’s political crisis has taken another violent turn, as anti-government protesters stormed the state broadcaster’s building in the capital, forcing it go off-air for approximately 45 minutes, as police continue to fire tear gas at those gathered outside parliament.
On Monday morning, a group of several hundred broke through a government-erected roadblock and picket, storming the Pakistan Television (PTV) building and forcing the broadcasters Urdu and English news channels off the air. They also occupied advanced positions near the PM’s official residence. Paramilitary soldiers from the Pakistan Rangers force have since cleared the PTV building, and are keeping protesters from entering key government buildings, including the National Assembly, and residences of the president and the PM.
We stormed the [state broadcaster] because it is supposed to be a people’s channel, but it has become a channel supporting the state’s oppressors,” said Abdul Rehman, 24, an anti-government protester. Faisal Ali, 26, another baton-wielding protester, said it was “justified to attack PTV, because it is spreading lies against us”. After a lull of several hours, police resumed firing tear gas shells at the protesters on Monday evening. Protesters, led by anti-government cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri and opposition leader Imran Khan, have been attempting to storm Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s official residence since Saturday night, which prompted the outbreak of violence which has resulted in three deaths and more than 595 people injured, including 115 police officers. The injured have been treated for tear gas inhalation, rubber bullet wounds and wounds from blunt objects, hospital officials told Al Jazeera. More than 89 policemen were among the wounded. Following Monday’s attack, the government has filed paperwork asking for a legal case to be filed against Qadri, Khan and hundreds of their supporters under anti-terrorism laws for inciting their supporters to invade government buildings. Khan and Qadri have since distanced themselves from the attack on PTV, calling on supporters not to enter government buildings. PM meets army chief The country’s powerful military has been taking a role in the crisis since last week, and on Monday morning, following the attack, Army Chief General Raheel Sharif met with Prime Minister Sharif (no relation) to discuss the situation. Following the meeting, the military’s press wing issued a statement denying rumours, reported on local media, that the army chief had asked PM Sharif to resign. “News being run on private channels after COAS and PM meeting regarding PM resignation or his going on leave is totally baseless,” the statement read. The statement came after the military warned against the use of further force after a meeting of top army commanders on Sunday night.
The country’s top army commanders viewed “with serious concern the existing political crisis and the violent turn it has taken, resulting in large scale injuries and loss of lives.
Further use of force will only aggravate the problem,” the statement said.
‘We could die here’
Baton-wielding protesters were seen roaming the corridors of the PTV building, and television footage showed signs of damage to cabinets, furniture and some equipment. Hundreds of protesters have now moved forward towards the prime minister’s official residence.
More than a thousand of the protesters have erected a tent city on the grounds of the National Assembly, vowing not toleave until PM Sharif resigns.
“We could die here, but we will give our lives gladly for the ‘revolution’,” said Kishwar Sultana, 53, a Qadri supporter and schoolteacher. “We won’t leave this place until the government falls.”
On the road outside parliament, Khan and Qadri’s mobile containers, which have been serving as both temporary homes and stages for them, stand side by side, as both periodically appear to speak to their supporters.
“This is the collapse of the Nawaz government. Now a national government will be formed under the supervision of Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri,” Shahid Mursaleen, Qadri’s spokesperson, told Al Jazeera on Monday.
Several rounds of government negotiations with Qadri and Khan have broken down, as both have remained adamant that Sharif must resign as Prime Minister. They differ, however, on what happens next. Khan alleges Sharif’s party’s rigged the 2013 general election that swept Sharif to power and wants fresh elections, while Qadri has called for the overthrow of the government and its replacement by a “national government” that would rewrite the constitution.