Pakistani authorities have extended for another 24 hours a deadline given to protesters blocking a major highway into the capital to disperse, officials said yesterday.
Around 2,000 members of a movement that supports the country’s blasphemy laws have been blocking the entrance into Islamabad for 10 days.
Thousands of police and paramilitary troops in riot gear were ready to disband protesters yesterday, but Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal pulled back forces at the last minute to avoid possible violence.
The protesters are demanding the removal of the law minister, who they accuse of blasphemy after he changed the text of an oath for parliamentarians in a way they perceived as softening the official stance.
The government did not take any action against the protesters, fearing a backlash due to the sensitivity of the issue but a court on Friday ordered the local administration to disband the protesters within 24 hours to make sure people could get into the city freely.
Nearly 6,000 police and troops are deployed to take on the protesters, police official Sajid Kiani said.
The government and clerics leading the protest would hold talks in the evening to end the deadlock.
“If no agreement is reached, we will start our action,” Kiani said.
Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Pakistan.
In 2011 a governor of the central province of Punjab was killed by his own police guard for speaking against the laws.
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