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Pakistan arrests Islamic cleric, hundreds of followers

By
Allen Cone
Police fire tear-gas canisters to disperse supporters of Islamic political party Tehrik Labaik Ya RasoolAllah during a protest over the arrests of Khadim Hussain Rizvi in Karachi, Pakistan on Friday. The leader has been taken into protective custody by the police. Photo by Shahzaib Akber/EPA
Police fire tear-gas canisters to disperse supporters of Islamic political party Tehrik Labaik Ya RasoolAllah during a protest over the arrests of Khadim Hussain Rizvi in Karachi, Pakistan on Friday. The leader has been taken into protective custody by the police. Photo by Shahzaib Akber/EPA

Nov. 24 (UPI) -- Pakistan's police took the leader of the far-right Islamist movement, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, and several hundred supporters in "protective custody," authorities said Saturday.

Authorities said the crackdown began Friday and continued Saturday in the country's most populous province of Punjab, where the ultra-right party is based, according to Voice of America.

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Prime Minister Imran Khan's government ordered the arrests after the Tehreek-e-Labbaik called for more protests in Punjab on Sunday, CNN reported.

They are protesting the Supreme Court's acquittal of a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, after she was on death row for almost eight years on blasphemy charges in an argument with a group of women over a glass of water.

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After Bibi was acquitted late last month, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik protested in Islamabad and Lahore.

TLP leaders had threatened the judges who freed Bibi. In addition, they condemned Prime Minister Imran Khan and the Pakistani army chief for agreeing with the court and the Christian woman.

Fawad Chaudhry, the federal minister for information and broadcasting, posted on Twitter the government had tried to convince the hard-liners not to protest "but they refused every offer and started to provoke violence." The "law shall take its course and it cannot be left to individuals," he tweeted.

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Bibi is in hiding in Pakistan amid calls for her death and some Western countries have offered Bibi and her family asylum. Bibi can go to any country once the judicial process is concluded, the government says.

TLP officials said the police crackdown was aimed at deterring them from protesting the acquittal.

But Chaudhry denied that.

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"Khadim Hussain Rizvi has been taken into protective custody by police and shifted to a guest house," Fawad Chaudhry, the federal minister for information and broadcasting, said on Twitter. "They insisted to come to Rwp [Rawalpindi] refusing (proposal for alternative arrangements. It's to safeguard public life, property and order and has to do nothing with Asia Bibi case."

Shehbaz Gill, a spokesman for Punjab's government, said the arrests were aimed at preventing protests from going ahead out of fear for public safety. He noted last time protesters attacked public properties and burned cars.

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