03/31/2016, 17.34
PAKISTAN
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Islamic extremists end their protest with Asia Bibi’s fate hanging in the balance

Supporters of Mumtaz Qadri, who murdered Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, began a sit-in on Sunday, which later turned into a call for Asia Bibi’s hanging, the application of Sharia, and the maintenance of the blasphemy law. Interior Minister denies that any deal was struck with protesters, who left “on their own accord."

Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Islamist protesters demonstrating in front of the Pakistan’s parliament building in Islamabad ended their days-long sit-in on Wednesday.

Islamists had come together originally to protest against the hanging of their “hero” Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed murderer of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer.

They stopped claiming the government had agreed to a number of their demands, including the hanging of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy.

However, Pakistan's Interior Minister Chauhdry Nisar Ali Khan denied that a deal had been struck, saying the demonstrators left "on their own accord."

"There has been no written or any other form of agreement," Khan insisted. "We were about to give orders to law enforcement agencies for clearing the area but then two religious personalities intervened."

Supporters of the governor’s former bodyguard had gathered in front of the parliament building last Sunday, “ready to die” rather than stop their protest. Their action started out as a show of support for the executed assassin, but turned into a protest against changes to the blasphemy law, for the implementation of Sharia, and the hanging of Asia Bibi, who has been on death row pending her appeal.

Initially, the authorities reacted slowly, underestimating the protest. As a result of this, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif came under harsh criticism. When he spoke out, he did not offer any far-reaching measures.

Eventually, the number of radical protesters reached a peak of 25,000, forcing police to deploy more 7,000 agents, including the paramilitary Rangers and Frontier Corps with reinforcements from the Punjab police, whilst army troops guarded key government buildings.

Columnist Gul Bukhari said that after initially underestimating the protesters and failing to read their intentions, the government acted wisely by letting them tire out and showing overwhelming force.

"The show of force was put out [sic] and in the end all they got was safe passage out," she said, adding there was nothing in the agreement claimed by the protest leaders that went beyond the current status quo and it was a "face-saving measure."

Meanwhile in Lahore, the death toll from the Easter Sunday attack rose to 74. Scores of the wounded remain in hospitals. "It's a sense of great grief, sorrow and fear," said Shamoon Gill, spokesman for the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance.

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