ISLAMABAD (AP) — More than 3,000 Islamists camped out on the edge of Pakistan's capital, demanding the removal of the country's law minister over a recently omitted reference to the Prophet Muhammad in a constitutional bill.
The rally began with a few hundred members of the small radical Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah party who had gathered earlier this week at the main Faizabad crossing outside Islamabad.
By Friday afternoon, the gathering grew to over 3,000, disrupting public life and prompting police to set up shipping containers on the throughway to prevent the protesters from entering the city. The demonstrators sought the removal of Zahid Hamid, although he has apologized and said the omission of the reference how Muhammad is the last prophet in Islam was a clerical mistake that was later corrected by the parliament.
But demonstrators claim Hamid tried to appease the minority Ahmadis sect.
Addressing emotionally charged demonstrators, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the head of the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah party, said they will not end their protest until the government has sacked Hamid.
"We will not allow anyone to change Islamic laws," he said, as people chanted "we can die to protect the honor of the Prophet."
The rally has caused inconvenience to commuters and authorities have suspended the only bus service linking the nearby garrison city of Rawalpindi with Islamabad. Pakistan has stepped up security at places of worship for Ahmadis since the protesters blamed Hamid for appeasing the tiny sect.
The Ahmadi faith was established in the Indian subcontinent in the 19th century by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who followers believe was a prophet.
Pakistan's parliament declared Ahmadis non-Muslims in 1974, and they are often targeted by Islamic extremists, who view them as heretics.