LAHORE Pakistan (Reuters) - At least eight people including a policeman were killed and dozens wounded in Pakistan on Tuesday when protesters clashed with police in a standoff over a Canada-based anti-Taliban preacher.
Clashes erupted in the Pakistani city of Lahore after police tried to remove security barricades from outside the residence of the cleric, Tahirul Qadri, that had been set up by his supporters to protect him from insurgent attacks.
Hospital officials said the dead included two women. Seventy-three political activists were wounded.
Qadri, who heads an Islamic charity and the Awami Tehreek political party, made headlines last year when he returned to Pakistan from Canada and led mass demonstrations against the government.
Following Tuesday’s clashes, both police and his supporters blamed each other for using live bullets.
“Thousands of policemen surrounded Qadri’s house and secretariat to remove security checkposts installed by our activists,” said Qazi Faiz, the spokesman for the charity.
“Our activists resisted and police baton-charged them and used teargas. When our activists retaliated, police fired live rounds of bullets.”
Provincial law minister Rana Sanaullah said: “Qadri’s people fired bullets at police from rooftops of houses when police reached there to remove the (barricades). We will take action against those responsible for this action.”
Last year, Qadri led thousands of supporters in the Pakistani capital to demand the dissolution of the government and the installation of a temporary administration led by technocrats.
Although his promises of a “million-man march” did not materialise, Qadri’s demand that the army play a role in the formation of an interim government prompted speculation that he was acting at the behest of the military.
Qadri once again announced his return to Pakistan this month to lead an opposition alliance against the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
“Before things get out of control, the army should take control,” he told a Pakistani TV channel on Tuesday.
Writing By Mehreen Zahra-Malik Editing by Maria Golovnina