An Islamabad-bound flight carrying Canada-based divisive preacher Tahir-ul-Qadri, who has vowed to lead a “revolution” against the Pakistan government, was today diverted to Lahore for security reasons as clashes erupted between his supporters and police.
Qadri, a cleric who has dual nationality, refused to come out of the plane in Lahore, demanding that the aircraft should be taken to its original destination, Islamabad.
Qadri has came back from Canada to lead what he called a “revolution” against the government.
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Information minister Pervaiz Rashid said that the plane was taken to Lahore as hundreds of Qadri’s supports were present on the roads in Islamabad and there was real risk to his life.
“We want his security as he has already said that government will be responsible for any harm to him,” Rashid said.
Around 40 of Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) supporters sustained injuries in a clash with the police near the Benazir Bhutto International Airport in Islamabad, as they gathered to receive their leader.
Police fired tear gas shells to disperse Qadri’s supporters who had gathered at the blockades on Expressway, the main artery that leads to the airport near Koral Chowk, early this morning.
“I do not trust these murderers (Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif) and I will not leave the plane,” Qadri said in telephonic address from the plane.
He said he only trusts the army and asked that an officer of at least the rank of a lieutenant general or corps commander should come and take responsibility of his security.
Some of the workers forcibly entered the airport premises, Geo TV reported.
Qadri had announced to land in the capital and lead a rally through the famous Grand Trunk Road to Lahore. The move resulted in panic in the government, which took elaborate measures to beef up security.
The airport in Islamabad was sealed yesterday evening and entry to the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad was restricted.
At least eight workers of Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tahreek were killed last week in Lahore after clashes when police tried to remove barricades from cleric’s residence. Last year, Qadri paralysed the capital by rallying thousands of supporters to demand postponement of elections. He had asked for electoral and political reforms before polls. Qadri is a controversial figure in Pakistan where he has been switching sides as once he was considered very close to Sharif’s family but later developed differences with them and is their stanch political enemy now.
He also supported Pervez Musharraf’s take over in 1999 but later distanced himself after seeing no chance of political rise under his wings.
Qadri runs many religious schools in the country and most of the followers are believed to be former and current students of these institutions.