Pakistani minister said to resign in capitulation to Islamists
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Pakistani minister said to resign in capitulation to Islamists

In response, radical leader calls off violent protests that have led to the death of a child and paralyzed the capital for weeks

Pakistani protesters from the Tehreek-i-Labaik Yah Rasool Allah Pakistan (TLYRAP) religious group shout religious slogans during a protest in Islamabad on November 26, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / AAMIR QURESHI)
Pakistani protesters from the Tehreek-i-Labaik Yah Rasool Allah Pakistan (TLYRAP) religious group shout religious slogans during a protest in Islamabad on November 26, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / AAMIR QURESHI)

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Islamist leader whose group clashed violently with Pakistani security forces and paralyzed Islamabad for weeks said their sit-in was called off Monday after the law minister reportedly resigned, meeting their key demand.

“On the assurance of the Chief of Army Staff, we are calling off the sit-in,” Khadim Hussain Rizvi told the crowd of around 2,500 demonstrators from the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakistan (TLY), who have occupied a main highway leading into the capital since November 6.

Pakistan’s law minister Zahid Hamid “has submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to steer the country out of crisis,” the state-run news agency Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said Monday in a report citing unnamed official sources, without giving further details.

State television station PTV also reported the minister’s resignation, without citing any sources.

There was no immediate confirmation or comment from government officials.

The Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakistan (TLY) — a little known Islamist group — has been calling for Hamid’s ousting for weeks over a hastily-abandoned amendment to the oath that election candidates must swear.

The protesters have linked it to blasphemy — a highly contentious issue in Muslim Pakistan that has often fueled violence.

On Saturday security forces attempted to clear the roughly 2,000 demonstrators at the sit-in in a botched operation that devolved into violence, with at least seven people killed and hundreds wounded before they were ordered to retreat.

The clashes fueled more protests in other cities, including Pakistan’s two largest Karachi and Lahore, and saw thousands more demonstrators arrive on the streets of Islamabad.

The government called on the army to intervene to restore order late Saturday. By Monday morning there still had been no official response from the military.

The sit-in has enraged commuters with hours-long traffic snarls, caused the death of at least one child whose ambulance could not reach hospital in time, and infuriated the judiciary.

The minister’s ousting is the latest in a series of heavy blows to the beleaguered Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) government as general elections approach in 2018.

In July, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was deposed by the courts over graft allegations, while finance minister Ishaq Dar — also accused of corruption — has taken indefinite medical leave.

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