LAHORE, Pakistan — At least seven people have been killed and about
100 wounded in Lahore in violent clashes between the police and followers of Muhammad
Tahir-ul-Qadri, a fiery preacher turned political activist who has called for a
mass movement against the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
It was the deadliest political confrontation in Lahore, Mr. Sharif’s hometown,
since a short-lived but turbulent period of emergency rule under the military ruler
Gen. Pervez Musharraf in late 2007. And it came at a critical time for Mr. Sharif,
who is marshaling public support as the army begins a perilous offensive against
the Taliban in the tribal district of North Waziristan.
The clashes started about midnight on Monday, when a large contingent of police
officers reached the headquarters of the Pakistan Awami Tehrik, Mr. Qadri’s party,
and demanded that his supporters remove barricades that they called illegal outside
the office and an adjoining residence.
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Muhammad Tahir-ul Qadri, center, is mobilizing a “million man” march that he
says will reach Islamabad on Monday.A Fiery Preacher’s Arrival Shakes Pakistani
PoliticsJAN. 12, 2013
Muhammad Tahir-ul Qadri addressed his supporters from his bulletproof enclosure
in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Thursday.Pakistani Preacher Ends Protest in Government
DealJAN. 17, 2013
The barricades were set up four years ago after Mr. Qadri, who is in Canada but
has said he will return to Pakistan next Monday, issued a decree against the Taliban
and received death threats from the militants.
Mr. Qadri’s supporters resisted the police demands, and the situation turned
violent, with clashes through the night. By morning, police reinforcements, including
bulldozers and armored vehicles, had arrived to disperse the crowd. Several women
and men lay down in front of barriers on the road, challenging the police to run
the bulldozers over them.
The police fired tear gas and charged with batons, then fired bullets into the
air. Mr. Qadri’s supporters accused the police of firing directly into the crowd.
The Lahore police chief, Chaudhry Shafique, accused the protesters of instigating
Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab Province and a brother of the prime
minister, said at a news conference that of the 97 people reported wounded, 27 were
police officers. Later, he removed Mr. Shafique from his position as police chief.
In January 2013, Mr. Qadri, who has been based in Canada, led a march of thousands
of followers to Islamabad to demand electoral overhauls and the removal of the previous
government, which was led by the Pakistan Peoples Party.
Under Pakistan’s Constitution, Mr. Qadri is barred from participating in elections
because of his dual Pakistani and Canadian citizenship, and critics accused him
of being a proxy for political interference by the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence
Mr. Qadri said he would land in Islamabad on Monday and had urged the Pakistani
military to provide him with protection. But given the suddenly precarious security
situation, with the authorities in major cities stepping up security in anticipation
of Taliban reprisals for the North Waziristan operation, it seems doubtful that
the military will allow him to hold mass street rallies.
Mr. Sharif’s government has hinted that Mr. Qadri might be arrested if he tries
to return to Pakistan next week, and has warned that the courts could bring money-laundering
investigations against him.
In a telephone address to supporters on Tuesday, Mr. Qadri accused the Lahore
police of firing on unarmed protesters. On Twitter, he said that Mr. Sharif had
ordered the attack because he was “gripped by fear of my arrival.”