Islamabad: Pakistan Army on Friday warned hundreds of protesters not to test their “patience” and asked them to end the standoff peacefully to avoid the use of force as the mass protests against the acquittal of a Christian woman for blasphemy entered its third day.
Asia Bibi, a 47-year-old mother of four, was convicted in 2010 after being accused of insulting Islam in a row with her neighbours. She always maintained her innocence, but has spent most of the past eight years in solitary confinement.
The apex court’s judgement, which was pronounced last Wednesday, triggered protests across Pakistan with protestors led by Islamic political party Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan and other groups blocking major highways and roads in different parts of the country.
Army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor told state-run channel PTV that a government team, including a representative of ISI was holding talks with the protestors.
He said the Army had seen statements of protest leaders against the military but it was showing tolerance as its focus was on militancy and to get the country out of the security problems.
“We have shown patience. We have no link with the case (of Bibi) but we want that justice should prevail. We also want that the Army should not be forced to take action (against protestors) which it is empowered under the law to take,” he said.
He said the Army was close to winning the war against militants and it was not interested to be side tracked by any incident.
The protest entered the third day and several major roads in Lahore, Islamabad, Karachi and other cities were blocked, according to police.
The education institutions were also closed in Punjab, while private schools were closed in Khyber-Pakhtukhwa provinces as well as in cities like Karachi and Islamabad.
The mobile phone and internet services also remained suspended in major cities.
However, hospitals across Pakistan were put on high alert as fears mounted that the government would have to use force to disperse the protests if talks failed.
So far there were no reports about success of negotiations despite indications by the officials that a breakthrough might be reached.
Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi said talks had failed and asked for complete shutter down on Friday.
“The talks with the government have completely failed,” he said on Twitter, as local media almost completely ignored his and other leaders’ speeches and interview.
Information minister Fawad Chaudhry said that there was complete peace and people should show any panic.
“The patience shown by the state should be interpreted as ITS weakness. It is in the interest of the people to fully implement law and order in the country and we will fulfill this responsibility,” he said on twitter.