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Pakistan Orders Islamist Protesters In Islamabad To Disband 10-Day Sit-In


Pakistani authorities on November 17 warned an estimated 5,000 Islamist protesters staging a sit-in near the capital, Islamabad, to disband within hours to avoid a crackdown, but protest leaders said they would not move.

"You all are being given a last warning," Islamabad's deputy commissioner of police said in an order. "End the illegal sit-in immediately...All resources can be used to break this sit-in."

The warning came a day after a court ordered the rally organizers -- the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah party -- to end the 10-day protest that has disrupted life in Islamabad and inconvenienced commuters, forcing them to find alternate routes.

A spokesman for the Labaik party, Ejaz Ashrafi, said the group would not comply with the ultimatums.

"We're not moving," he told Reuters by phone from the sit-in.

A government official, Khalid Abbasi, said late on November 17 that after protesters were given the warning, hundreds more party supporters joined the sit-in. He said the participants were carrying rods and sticks.

The demonstrators began camping out last week at the main Faizabad crossing, which links the garrison city of Rawalpindi with Islamabad.

They have been demanding dismissal of the country's law minister, Zahid Hamid, who they charge intentionally removed a long-standing reference to the Prophet Muhammad from a constitutional bill.

Hamid has apologized, saying it was a clerical error that was later corrected. Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal has dismissed what he called the protesters' "unreasonable demand" for Hamid's ouster.

On November 17, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who runs the party behind the rally, told the gathering that he would not end his demonstration until Hamid is fired.

The rally has drawn criticism from residents in both Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

The police have put up shipping containers and road blocks to prevent the rally from pushing deeper into Islamabad.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters
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