TLP workers will not proceed towards Islamabad, says Rashid as negotiations make progress

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed on Sunday said the proscribed Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) will not proceed with its march towards Islamabad as negotiations with the group had “almost” succeeded.

Speaking to Dawn News, the minister said the TLP workers would continue their sit-in till Monday or Tuesday “but will not head towards Islamabad”.

On Saturday, the relatively less-equipped and poorly trained workers of the proscribed TLP had managed to bulldoze all security layers of the Lahore and Sheikhupura police and entered Gujranwala while chanting slogans and calling other activists to join them.

However, they had slowed down the march after leaving Lahore, and decided to spend the night in the suburban town of Muridke on GT Road.

The minister said that detained TLP workers, along with those placed on the Fourth Schedule, would be released. He said under an agreement signed with the TLP earlier, the issue of expelling the French ambassador will be taken to parliament for debate.

He said that a delegation from the proscribed group will arrive at the interior ministry on Monday for talks. “We will resolve their issues in a day or two,” he said.

Ahmed, who was in Dubai to watch Pakistan compete in the T20 cricket World Cup, had returned home on Saturday on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s directive to monitor the situation.

On Saturday, TLP protesters had removed several containers from GT Road on the Ravi bridge, the last main security point of Lahore police using a crane, and entered Sheikhupura from where they marched towards Gujranwala after violent clashes with the law enforcement agencies at Kala Shah Kaku.

When multiple security strategies failed, the Gujranwala police dug up a 12-foot-deep ditch and filled it with water as a preventive measure to stop the violent protesters besides making heavy deployment.

The TLP’s Central Shura (committee) had also refused to talk to a delegation of federal and provincial ministers, saying the federal government could not have it both ways: negotiate peace and shell them simultaneously.

The Shura took this stance late on Saturday as a three-member team comprising ministers Sheikh Rashid, Pir Noorul Haq Qadri and Ali Amin Gandapur arrived in the city to kickstart dialogue with the TLP leadership.

The two-member Punjab government team comprised Law Minister Raja Basharat and Minister for Prosecution Chaudhry Zaheeruddin joined their federal colleagues to thrash out a strategy. They reportedly sent an emissary to the incarcerated TLP chief Saad Rizvi to offer talks.

3 policemen martyred in clashes with TLP workers
On Friday, three policemen were martyred and several others injured in clashes with TLP workers.

Chauburji, Lower Mall and surrounding areas turned into battlefields with videos of the clashes showing police firing teargas shells to disperse the protesters who in return pelted the law enforcers with stones. Many TLP workers carrying clubs appeared to be fighting back when the riot police tried to disperse them.

In a statement, Lahore DIG (Operation) Spokesperson Mazhar Hussain identified two of the slain officials as Ayub and Khalid. The identity of the third official was not ascertained, but a statement from the provincial chief minister stated that three policemen were martyred.

Hussain said that several others were also injured and taken to the hospital in critical condition. “Protesters also hurled petrol bombs on officials,” he said, adding that officials tried to prevent them from vandalising and damaging public property.

“The angry mob also used sticks and pelted stones,” he said, adding that officials were showing restraint despite the violence.

A TLP media coordinator, Saddam Bukhari, said the police attacked the peaceful rally that was on its way to Islamabad.

In a separate statement, a spokesperson for the banned group said that workers had endured the “worst shelling in history” and were “attacked from all sides” near the Mao College Pul.

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