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Wednesday Mar 30, 2016

Negotiations successful: Protest leaders announce end to Red Zone sit-in

Negotiations successful: Protest leaders announce end to Red Zone sit-in

ISLAMABAD: Negotiations between the government and demonstrators in Islamabad concluded successfully on Wednesday, prompting protest leaders to announce an end to their sit-in in the high-security Red Zone that they had held under siege for four days in a row.

A large number of protesters had set fires and clashed with police on Sunday and gathered near parliament for a sit-in to protest the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of former Punjab governor Salman Taseer. The protesters had since camped near D-Chowk, a high-security zone in Islamabad close to where parliament, key government buildings and foreign embassies are located.

But, according to Geo News sources, the government has agreed to a set of demands from the protesters in exchange of the assurance that they will clear the Red Zone.  

Shortly after news of the successful negotiations, protest leaders reached the demonstration site and announced an end to the sit-in, which had now entered its fourth day.

According to details obtained exclusively by Geo News, the points agreed upon by the two sides includes the assurance that no amendments will be made to the Constitution’s Article 295-C, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

The government has also assured the protesters that those who engaged in peaceful protest will be released, and that the withdrawal of cases against clerics will be considered.

The government has promised protesters that those convicted in blasphemy cases will not be spared.

The government will also review the Anti-terrorism Act's Fourth Schedule, a list which includes those Most Wanted by the federal government. The government has assured that those innocent people wrongfully included in the most-wanted list will be removed.

Another point reads that recommendations in the context of Nizam-e-Mustafa will be referred to the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

The last point concerns the Pakistan Electronic Media regulatory Authority (PEMRA). According to the point, clerics will be able to approach PEMRA with evidence against airing of objectionable (vulgar) programming.

Following the successful negotiations, mobile phone services – which had been suspended for security reasons following the sit-in – were restored in the federal capital.

Police and paramilitary personnel wearing riot gear and armed with tear gas equipment are already posted around the high-security zone for any situation which may arise in case protesters refuse to disperse peacefully.

The government claims that if the protesters do not leave the area, all preparations to clear the area have been made.

The government had earlier given the protesters a final deadline to vacate the Red Zone peacefully by today.

At a high level meeting held earlier today, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif directed his top government officials that the protest should end peacefully today. The session was attended by Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar.

The PM was told that the government’s first priority is to resolve the issue peacefully.

The PM was briefed that government reacted with patience and did not even block the food being supplied to the protesters. He was told that the additional forces were brought in the Red Zone for the protection of public property and government institutions.

Thousands of supporters of Mumtaz Qadri, who was executed for killing Governor Punjab Salman Taseer in 2011, have held the capital’s Red Zone under siege for the fourth day in a row. The protesters marched to the Red Zone after offering prayers for Qadri at Rawalpindi on Sunday, a month after he was hanged to death.