LAHORE: Pakistani police yesterday charged a populist, anti-government cleric with murder after a policeman was killed during clashes with his supporters.
The constable was wounded in Lahore on Friday in confrontations with followers of Tahirul Qadri, a religious moderate, and died of his injuries late on Saturday, police said.
“A case of murder, inciting violence and treason have been registered against Tahirul Qadri and his supporters,” senior police official Zulfiqar Hameed said.
Police said the Canada-based cleric, who had previously threatened to march on the Pakistani capital and overthrow the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, faced many other accusations of attempted murder as well as inciting his followers to attack police and commit terrorist acts.
Violence broke out on Friday after hundreds of the cleric’s baton-wielding supporters tried to remove the shipping containers police had used to block the roads to his party headquarters in Lahore’s upscale Model Town area.
The violence continued on Saturday, mainly in Lahore’s Punjab province, with clashes between police and his supporters leaving two others dead including another police officer.
Qadri, who commands tens of thousands of followers, returned to Pakistan in June to lead what he terms a “peaceful revolution”, claiming the country’s political system only benefits the elite.
After Saturday’s renewed clashes, the cleric asked his supporters to abandon a mass prayer procession due to be held in Lahore on Sunday for the victims of previous violence in June between his supporters and the police.
No major violence was reported on Sunday, but witnesses said thousands of Qadri’s supporters were seen gathered inside his party headquarters, with hundreds of police surrounding the site and blocking roads with shipping containers.
Police have arrested more than 500 of the cleric’s supporters in the last three days, officials said.
Qadri held a disruptive four-day sit-in protest against the government in 2013 ahead of the election that saw Sharif come to power for a third time.
In Islamabad, police on Sunday placed shipping containers to block roads ahead of a protest march by opposition leader Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party on Thursday, witnesses said.
Khan has vowed to lead the march to force the government to step down and hold a fresh election.
Khan, who leads the third largest party in parliament, has long complained of massive rigging in the 2013 general election which saw the country’s first transition of power from one civilian-led government to another.