ISLAMABAD (AP) — A Pakistani court on Thursday asked the organizers of an Islamist rally near the capital to end their days-long protest that has disrupted life in Islamabad. There was no immediately sign the protesters would comply with the request.
The demonstrators, from the small Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah party, began camping out last week at the city's main Faizabad crossing, which links the garrison city of Rawalpindi with Islamabad. They have been demanding the removal of the country's law minister over a recently omitted reference to the Prophet Muhammad in a constitutional bill.
The minister, Zahid Hamid, apologized for the omission of the phrase how Muhammad is the last prophet in Islam, saying it was a clerical mistake that was later corrected.
Still, the protesters pressed on with their rally, which blocked traffic and prompted police barricades around the demonstration. At times the number of demonstrators swelled to 3,000.
On Thursday, the Islamabad High Court's chief justice, Shaukat Sadiqui, asked the party to disband the rally but the protesters remained in place by nightfall, many holdings sticks and bars in their hands to prevent cars and pedestrians from using the crossing.
Angered by the situation, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal told parliament later Thursday that his government would not accept the protesters' "unreasonable demand" for dismissing the law minister.
Iqbal said plans were in place to use force if negotiations failed to get the protesters to disband peacefully.
Hamid, the law minister, meanwhile, told lawmakers the protesters were wrongly linking him to minority Ahmadis.
Followers of the Ahmadi faith, established in the Indian subcontinent in the 19th century by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, believe their founder was a prophet. Pakistan declared Ahmadis non-Muslims in 1974. They are often targeted by extremists.