Pakistan blocks off roads into capital as blasphemy law supporters stage sit-in

A supporter of the Pakistani radical religious party, Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah, stands guard as people offer Friday prayers during a sit-in protest in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Friday, November 10, 2017. (AP)
Updated 10 November 2017

Pakistan blocks off roads into capital as blasphemy law supporters stage sit-in

RAWALPINDI: Pakistan on Friday blocked off roads into Islamabad, the capital, as an Islamist party that backs strict blasphemy laws staged a sit-in on a key highway, demanding the resignation of a minister it blames for changes to an electoral oath.
Dozens of Pakistanis are on death row, convicted of having insulted Islam’s prophet, a charge that carries a mandatory death sentence, although no executions have been carried out.
More than 500 supporters of the Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan party, or Movement of the Prophet’s Followers, chanted slogans as speakers addressed them from atop a cargo truck, pledging their lives to protect Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
The protesters demanded the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid, whom they hold responsible for the law change, and denounced him as a blasphemer.
“Immediately appear before us and beg for forgiveness,” said one speaker.
Two high court lawyers who joined the sit-in said they would work to advance Labaik’s agenda in the courts.
“He (Hamid) has insulted the blasphemy laws, the punishment for which is death,” said one of the lawyers.
Pakistan’s interior ministry did not immediately answer telephone calls from Reuters to seek comment.
The ruling Pakistani Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) unexpectedly set off a firestorm last month after voting through the alteration of the oath, among seemingly small changes to the nation’s electoral law.
The changes prompted accusations of blasphemy from religious parties and the government retreated, apologizing in parliament for what it called a “clerical” mistake.
But the apology did not satisfy Tehreek-e-Labaik, triggering the sit-in, as the culmination of a march of nearly 400 km (249 miles) from the eastern city of Lahore.
The party rose to prominence in September, after placing third in a by-election in Lahore, edging out a major opposition party to pick up 6 percent of the vote.
Last month, it gained nearly 8 percent in a by-election in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
While Tehrik-e-Labaik is unlikely to break out of single digits in coming votes, its rapid rise could present a challenge for the PML-N.
On a bridge overlooking the highway demonstration site, drivers of trucks halted by blockades erected by city authorities complained about cargo delivery delays.
One commuter unable to take public transport to work told Reuters his business had suffered.
“I run a tailoring shop and can’t go to work today,” said Mohammad Altaf. “I have lost a day’s earnings.”


Six killed as avalanche buries Indian patrol on disputed glacier

Updated 18 November 2019

Six killed as avalanche buries Indian patrol on disputed glacier

  • The disaster was the latest on the Siachen Glacier at more than 5,000 meters
  • Hundreds of troops from both sides have died in avalanches and from the fierce climate

SRINAGAR: An avalanche on Monday hit an Indian patrol in the world’s highest militarised zone in the Himalayas, killing four soldiers and two porters, an army spokesman said.
The disaster was the latest on the Siachen Glacier at more than 5,000 meters (16,500 feet) that is claimed by India and rival Pakistan.
Hundreds of troops from both sides have died in avalanches and from the fierce climate in the region over the past three decades.
An Indian military spokesman told AFP that the avalanche engulfed eight people in the patrol at the northern end of the glacier in the Karakoram mountain range.
Rescue teams managed to dig the patrol members out of the snow, and they were taken by helicopter to hospital.
“Despite best efforts, six casualties which includes four soldiers and two civilian porters succumbed to extreme hypothermia,” said the spokesman, Col. Rajesh Kalia.
Avalanches are common on the 700-square-kilometer (270-square-mile) glacier, where temperatures regularly fall to minus 60 degrees Celsius (-76 Fahrenheit).
In 2016, 10 Indian soldiers were buried and killed.
About 900 Indian soldiers alone have died on the glacier since 1984, when Indian forces took complete control of Siachen.
The glacier is located at the northern end of the Line of Control that divides Kashmir, which India and Pakistan have fought over since 1947.