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Despite Violent Pushback, Anti-Government Protesters in Pakistan Refuse to Budge Until Prime Minister Sharif Steps Down

Women and Children are seen at large numbers as protestors made the Liberty Roundabout an 'independence square' in Lahore and rallied late into the night. Image by Saad Safraz Sheikh. Copyright Demotix (28/8/2014)

Women and children are seen in large numbers as protesters made the Liberty Roundabout an ‘independence square’ in Lahore and rallied late into the night. Image by Saad Safraz Sheikh. Copyright Demotix (28/8/2014)

Three days of clashes between Pakistan's PML-N-led government and anti-government protesters outside the official residence of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has left at least three dead and hundreds injured.

On September 1 anti-government protesters stormed and seized the head office of the national broadcaster Pakistan Television (PTV) in capital city Islamabad. PTV transmission was suspended for 35 minutes, until paramilitary troops regained control of the state channel. Shortly before ending transmission, the announcer said, “They have stormed the PTV office. PTV staff performing their duties are being beaten up.”

Two political parties are leading the protests — cricketer turned politician Imran Khan‘s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) and anti-Taliban Sufi cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri's Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT). Both allege that the May 2013 general election, which brought PML-N to power in a landslide victory, was rigged; they want Prime Minister Sharif to step down.

The clashes started in the early hours of August 30, after police in riot gear used tear gas and rubber bullets to fight back massive crowds of protesters — men, women and children — trying to storm the prime minister's secretariat.

The scenes emerging from Islamabad changed into a battle zone, where tens of thousands of peaceful protesters have been camping out peacefully since August 14 demanding that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif step down.

On August 18, supporters of Khan's PTI and Tahirul Qadri's PAT broke through the red zone – a designated high security area — which encloses key government buildings, including the prime minister's secretariat and foreign embassies. Usually, only people with security clearance are able to enter Islamabad's red zone. Twenty thousand police officers and paramilitary forces were called in to guard the red zone. Since the violence started almost all foreign missions have closed down.

Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf claimed that real bullets were used and the death toll is more than three:

PTI's Twitter head, Hamza Salman, shared picture of a man covered in blood:

Dr. Arif Alvi, ex-secretary general of PTI, said that protesters were peaceful and had no batons or sticks with them:

Raza Rumi, a political analyst, shared a picture of protesters with sticks:

A peaceful attack on prime minister house is same as peaceful robbery at someone's house: Asma Jahangir

Natalia Tariq, a common citizen in Islamabad, tweeted:

ARY news, one of the country's biggest TV channels, reported that police raided hospitals to arrest injured protesters, but no other news source verified their claims:

Rumours and conspiracy theories about the death toll is circulating all over social media. Messages were being sent via WhatsApp and Facebook by unknown fake accounts sharing media reports inciting violence and claiming that Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) was hiding dead bodies and the death toll was much higher:

Journalist Moeed Pirzada tweeted:

Some fake pictures of the injured were also shared by PTI official handles and now circulating social media. Emrys Schoemaker, a British communication strategist and technology specialist based in Islamabad, tweeted:

Attack on media:

Angry protesters pelted stones at Geo TV‘s offices in Islamabad. The Geo Network is Pakistan's largest media group and is considered pro-government and pro-democracy. Geo recently faced closure and a fine after a row with the intelligence agency ISI.

PTI workers attack Geo News Islamabad Office by GeoNews

Maria Memon, a TV journalist in Islamabad, tweeted a photo of the Geo building:

Gullu Butt” is a colloquial term in Pakistan to refer to someone paid to engage in vandalism and/or violence, especially in a political context.

Journalists of Larkana & Naundero took out separate protest rallies & held demonstrations against beating of Media Persons in Islamabad by Punjab police during crackdown on PTI and PAT political workers. Image by Jamal Dawoodpoto. Copyright Demotix (31/8/2014)

Journalists of Larkana & Naundero took out separate protest rallies & held demonstrations against beating of reporters in Islamabad by Punjab police during a crackdown on PTI and PAT political workers. Image by Jamal Dawoodpoto. Copyright Demotix (31/8/2014)

In another incident, the police attacked journalists who went to report on the protests.

Talat Hussain, a journalist and anchorperson, tweeted:

According to reports protesters with sticks also attacked police officers.

This is a developing story. Watch this space for more details and follow-up reports.
Anushe Noor Fahim contributed to this post.

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