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Pakistani Security Clears Protesters From State TV Station

  • VOA News

Pakistani security forces have cleared hundreds of anti-government protesters from the state television studio after they seized the building and briefly took the channel off the air.

The protesters, who are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, stormed into Pakistani Television, or PTV, Monday as it carried live coverage of the demonstrators in its offices in the capital, Islamabad.

Later in the day, crowds of protesters armed with wooden clubs tried to break through police lines to push their way to the prime minister's residence in Islamabad. Police responded by firing tear gas.

The demonstrators have been protesting for several weeks, but opposition leader, cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan is vowing not to call off the anti-government protests until the prime minister resigns.

The opposition charges Sharif with massive fraud in last year's election. International observers have said the vote was largely free and fair.

At the television station, Khan told the demonstrators that Sharif has no moral standing to continue to lead Pakistan.

"We are saying to Nawaz Sharif that he should now step down, because today people will come out all over Pakistan against him, and there will be losses to the Pakistani people, and will be losses to people's property, all because of you, and you have no moral ground to continue as prime minister," he said.

Khan urged supporters in Islamabad Sunday night to confront the police and show resolve against what he called its illegal crackdown on peaceful demonstrators.

Unprecedented military meeting

Pakistan's powerful military held an unprecedented Sunday meeting of its top commanders who say the government should immediately end the standoff peacefully.

Army Chief General Raheel Sharif (no relation to PM Nawaz) warns that further use of force will only aggravate the unrest.

Police have attacked television crews and reporters covering the protests. Police have been seen dragging journalists out of vans and beating them with sticks. Some have been seriously hurt. A government minister has promised to investigate brutality against the press.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States supports the right of peaceful protest, but urged the demonstrators and the government to show restraint and said destruction of property was not an acceptable way to resolve political differences.

Extensive damage at PTV

Pakistani Television managing director Mohammad Malick told VOA's Urdu Service that the damage was extensive at the channel's offices.

"Our transmission remained suspended for half an hour, about 25 to 30 minutes. We are trying to assess the losses," he said. "They [the protesters] were carrying clubs and different types of weapons, they had wooden clubs. They destroyed a lot of equipment. Some equipment was also stolen."

Some information in this report was provided by Reuters and AFP.

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