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Pakistani police fire tear gas at Islamists blockading capital

From Reuters - November 24, 2017

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani police used tear gas and watercannon, and fought running battles with stone-throwing Islamist activists, as they moved to clear a protest by the religious hard-liners who have blocked main routes into Islamabad for more than two weeks.

The clashes began on Saturday when police launched an operation, involving some 4,000 officers, to disperse around 1,000 activists from Tehreek-e-Labaik, a new hard-line Islamist political party, and break up their camp, police official Saood Tirmizi told Reuters.

Dozens of protesters were arrested, Tirmizi said, and a hospital reported at least 27 people were being treated for injuries.

The mass protest, plus the recent gains of two new Islamist parties in Pakistan, demonstrated the religious rights gathering strength ahead of what are expected to be tumultuous elections next year.

Television footage showed smoke billowing and fires burning in the streets as officers in heavy riot gear advanced. Protesters, some wearing gas masks, fought back in scattered battles across empty highways and surrounding neighborhoods.

We are in our thousands. We will not leave. We will fight until end, Tehreek-e-Labaik party spokesman Ejaz Ashrafi told Reuters by telephone from the scene.

The protesters have paralyzed daily life in the capital, and have defied court orders to disband, demanding that the minister of law fired.

Tehreek-e-Labaik blames the minister, Zahid Hamid, for changes to an electoral oath that it says amounts to blasphemy. The government puts the issue down to a clerical error.

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