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Thousands Of Islamic Protesters Block Islamabad Streets, Demand Minister's Removal

Khadim Hussain Rizvi (C), leader of the Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan far right Islamist political party
Khadim Hussain Rizvi (C), leader of the Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan far right Islamist political party

Pakistani authorities have blocked all roads leading to parliament and deployed riot police as thousands of angry protesters demanded the removal of Law Minister Zahid Hamid for allegedly making an anti-Islamic change to electoral laws.

According to Islamabad police, more than 3,400 supporters of the radical Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan party, or Movement of the Prophet's Followers, staged a sit-in over the alleged change, which Hamid said was a clerical mistake and has already been corrected.

The alleged offense involved the removal of a reference in the official electoral oath to the Prophet Muhammad as the last prophet of God -- an Islamic tenet believed by most Pakistani Muslims.

"No negotiations till Zahid Hamid is removed," Islamist leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi said as protesters chanted slogans against him. "We will die to protect the honor of the prophet," Rizvi said.

Hamid released a video message saying he is a true Muslim who believes that Muhammad is the last prophet.

But it did not mollify the protesters, who say he changed the oath to appease the Ahmadiyya sect, which defines itself as Muslim, but which was declared non-Muslim by Pakistan in 1974 because it does not recognize Muhammad as the last prophet.

The sit-in has disrupted city life due to the roadblocks. On November 9, police filed charges against Rizvi and other participants in the rally, holding them responsible for the death of an sick infant after they refused passage to an ambulance.

The government has said it wants the protesters to peacefully disperse. Authorities said they are in communication with Rizvi — who has not yet been detained over the charges — to end the sit-in.

Authorities hinted at using force over the weekend if their talks with Rizvi fail. Pakistan has also stepped up security at Ahmadi worship places.

Based on reporting by AP, dpa, and Reuters