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Pakistan troops deployed to quell protests in Islamabad

By Brooks Hays
Pakistan troops deployed to quell protests in Islamabad
Anti-blasphemy protesters block a street in Karachi, Pakistan. Photo by Shahzaib Akber/European Pressphoto Agency

Nov. 26 (UPI) -- The Pakistani military has deployed troops to quell anti-blasphemy protests in Lahore, the nation's capital.

Clashes between demonstrators and police turned violent on Saturday as agitators demanded the resignation of the country's law minister, Zahid Hamid, who stands accused of removing reference to the Prophet Muhammad from an updated version of the electoral oath.

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The ruling government has since amended the oath, while Hamid has released a video stating his belief in Muhammad as God's final prophet.

Despite the correction, thousands remain in the streets of Islamabad, and several major highways remain blocked by protests. The demonstrations have been ongoing for nearly weeks.

On Saturday, demonstrations turned violent when police attempted to disperse crowds and clear roads. At least six were killed and more than 200 were injured.

On Sunday, troops moved in to settle the conflicts, but not before the military received clarification on the purpose of their deployment.

In statements made online and to the press, the military appeared to criticize the way police had handled Saturday's clashes.

Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa reportedly told Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbas "to handle the protest peacefully, avoiding violence from both sides as it is not in the national interest."

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Military officials met with leaders from the country's ruling political party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, before deploying troops.

The military said they would not use violent force against the protestors.

"The army will remain at the backstage," an anonymous military spokesperson told the New York Times. "We will not use force against the protesters. We will just protect important government installations."

Many of the protestors are supporters of hard-line religious parties like the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Party.

Increasingly, charges of blasphemy against political leaders have inspired protests and mobs in Pakistan.

Protestors reportedly pressed on with demonstrations on Sunday, despite the military presence, but moods were calmer in Islamabad. More than two dozen rallies were held throughout the Punjab province.

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