Anti-PM protesters storm Pakistan broadcaster

Demonstrators enter building of Pakistan TV, briefly forcing it off air, amid continuing demands for PM to step down.

By nightfall, the situation had calmed once again, with police and protesters moving back from the front lines [AFP]

Islamabad, Pakistan –  The political crisis in Pakistan has taken another violent turn, as anti-government protesters stormed the state broadcaster’s building in the capital, and police fired tear gas at those gathered outside parliament before calm returned by nightfall.

On Monday morning, a group of several hundred demonstrators broke through a government-erected roadblock and picket, storming the Pakistan Television (PTV) building and forcing the broadcaster’s Urdu and English news channels off-air for approximatley 45 minutes.

The protesters also occupied advanced positions near the the prime minister’s official residence.

Paramilitary soldiers from the Pakistan Rangers force have since cleared the PTV building, and are keeping protesters from entering key government buildings, including the National Assembly and residences of the president and PM.

“We stormed the [state broadcaster] because it is supposed to be a people’s channel, but it has become a channel supporting the state’s oppressors,” said Abdul Rehman, 24, an anti-government protester.

Faisal Ali, 26, another baton-wielding protester, said it was “justified to attack PTV, because it is spreading lies against us”.

After a lull of several hours, police resumed firing tear gas shells at the protesters on Monday evening. By nightfall, the situation had calmed again, with both police and the majoirty of protesters moving back from the front lines.

Protesters, led by anti-government cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri and opposition leader Imran Khan, have been attempting to storm Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s official residence since Saturday night, which prompted the outbreak of violence which has resulted in three deaths and more than 595 people injured, including 115 police officers.

The injured have been treated for tear gas inhalation, rubber bullet wounds and wounds from blunt objects, hospital officials told Al Jazeera. 

Following Monday’s attack, the government has filed paperwork asking for a legal case to be filed against Qadri, Khan and hundreds of their supporters under anti-terrorism laws for inciting their supporters to invade government buildings.

Khan and Qadri have since distanced themselves from the attack on PTV, calling on supporters not to enter government buildings.

Khan alleges Sharif’s party’s rigged the 2013 general election that swept Sharif to power and wants fresh elections, while Qadri has called for the overthrow of the government and its replacement by a “national government” that would rewrite the constitution.

PM meets army chief

The country’s powerful military has been taking a role in the crisis since last week, and on Monday morning, following the attack, Army Chief General Raheel Sharif met with PM Sharif (no relation) to discuss the situation.

Following the meeting, the military’s press depsrtment issued a statement denying rumours, reported on local media, that the army chief had asked PM Sharif to resign.

“News being run on private channels after COAS (Chief of Army Staff) and PM meeting regarding PM resignation or his going on leave is totally baseless,” the statement read.

The statement came after the military warned against the use of further force after a meeting of top army commanders on Sunday night.

The country’s top army commanders viewed “with serious concern the existing political crisis and the violent turn it has taken, resulting in large scale injuries and loss of lives.

“Further use of force will only aggravate the problem,” the statement said.

‘We could die here’

Earlier, baton-wielding protesters were seen roaming the corridors of the PTV building, and television footage showed signs of damage to cabinets, furniture and some equipment.

Hundreds of protesters have now moved forward towards the prime minister’s official residence.

More than 1,000 of the protesters have erected a tent city on the grounds of the National Assembly, vowing not to leave until PM Sharif resigns.

“We could die here, but we will give our lives gladly for the ‘revolution’,” said Kishwar Sultana, 53, a Qadri supporter and schoolteacher. “We won’t leave this place until the government falls.”

On the road outside parliament, Khan and Qadri’s mobile containers, which have been serving as both temporary homes and stages for them, stand side by side, as both periodically appear to speak to their supporters.

“This is the collapse of the Nawaz government. Now a national government will be formed under the supervision of Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri,” Shahid Mursaleen, Qadri’s spokesperson, told Al Jazeera on Monday.

Several rounds of government negotiations with Qadri and Khan have broken down, as both have remained adamant that Sharif must resign as prime minister. They differ, however, on what happens next.

Follow Asad Hashim on Twitter: @AsadHashim

Source: Al Jazeera