Friday Nov 02 2018

Negotiations ongoing with protesters, no truth to reports of operation: Chaudhry


ISLAMABAD: Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry on Friday rubbished reports circulating on social media of any operation by the government against the demonstrators, and said that negotiations were ongoing between the government and the protesters.

"The situation across the country is under control. Negotiations are ongoing with the protesters. The government is a guarantor of the people's lives and freedom. Reports of any operation against the demonstrators are false," he tweeted in Urdu. 

"The government does not wish to resort to use of [force]. Federal Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Noor-ul-Haq Qadri will continue to hold talks with the leadership of the demonstrators," the minister shared. 

His comments came as protests by religious parties continued countrywide for a third day against the acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman on death row for blasphemy allegations.

'State's patience must not be mistaken for weakness'

In a Twitter post late Thursday night, Fawad Chaudhry had stressed that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led government did not wish to resort to use of force against the protesters but would not allow the writ of the state to be challenged.

"The law and order situation in the country is under control. The state's patience must not be mistaken for weakness," he had said. 

"Upholding the Constitution and the rule of law completely is in the best public interest and we [the government] will fulfill this duty.

"The Prime Minister is being briefed about the situation by the minute. Any attempt to sabotage the important visit to China will fail," the minister had warned.

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday night reached Beijing, where, at the capital city's airport, he was welcomed by Li Xiaopeng and Yao Jing, the Chinese transport minister and Ambassador to Pakistan, respectively, and Ambassador Masood Khalid.

Khan is accompanied by Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Asad Umar, Khusro Bakhtiar, and Sheikh Rasheed, the ministers of foreign affairs, finance, planning, and railways, respectively; Abdul Razak Dawood, the adviser to Khan on commerce, textiles, industries production and investment; and Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal.

According to a spokesperson for the Prime Minister Office, Khan is expected to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping, his counterpart, Li Keqiang, and other top officials.

'United on this matter'

Earlier, speaking of the ongoing protests across the country, Chaudhry had said the entire country was "united on this matter".

"We have decided that we will proceed with a strategy on this, and the opposition has ensured us of their complete cooperation. 

"InshAllah, whatever strategy is formulated, we will proceed with it with the help of the opposition," Chaudhry had said during a news conference on Thursday, sitting alongside federal minister Khusro Bakhtiar.

Addressing "some elements", the information minister had said the government did not want the situation to result in any damage or violence.

The information minister was referring to protesters who have taken to the streets and blocked roads in major cities of Pakistan since the Supreme Court on Wednesday acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted on blasphemy charges in 2010 and on death row for eight years.

In a televised address to the nation on Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Imran Khan had supported what he called a "constitutional" decision by the top court, and issued a stern warning to protesters against inciting citizens or challenging the writ of the state.

"The kind of fight that Pakistan's forces have fought at the borders, nobody should be under the impression that the state is weak. You cannot fight the state. You will not even know what has happened to you," Chaudhry had warned.

'Opposition, state institutions backing govt stance'

The information minister's press conference came after a government committee met with Pakistan People's Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday and briefed them on the situation regarding the ongoing protests.

Chaudhry told reporters that opposition parties had put their weight behind the government, saying they would support the strategy that would be formulated in consultation with them.

"All state institutions and opposition parties are supporting the government’s stance on the issue," said Chaudhry.

Responding to a question about Prime Minister Imran Khan's address, Chaudhry said the premier had presented the stance of the state, not of the government.

He said that the government would attempt to take along every political force for the sake of Pakistan.

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday formed a committee to hold talks to end the ongoing protests across the country.

The premier chaired an emergency meeting of the federal cabinet during which he reviewed the current security situation and accorded approval for holding talks with the protesters.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death over blasphemy allegations. The apex court cleared Asia Bibi of all blasphemy allegations and ordered her immediate release.

Following the verdict, protests broke out across the country, led primarily by the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP). Roads were blocked and educational institutes were closed due to the protests.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, on Wednesday, had addressed the nation and fully backed the Supreme Court's decision in the Asia Bibi case, warning protesters against clashing with the state.

"The decision of the judges is according to the Constitution and Pakistan's Constitution is according to the Holy Quran and Sunnah," he had said.