The Wall Street Journal: Pakistan halts crackdown against protesters a day after deadly clash

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A government operation to clear a protest by Islamist activists in the capital remained suspended Sunday after at least seven demonstrators were killed and 260 injured a day earlier.

Protesters continued to block a major road between Islamabad and the adjacent city of Rawalpindi, with new numbers joining their ranks, according to government officials and the protesters. The activists, who are calling for the resignation of a minister they say is responsible for an insult to the Prophet Muhammad, have now blocked the road for nearly three weeks.

The government called in the army on Saturday to help restore order as demonstrators clashed with police and paramilitary forces and the police action failed to dislodge the protesters. But on Sunday, the military questioned whether the army was needed for the operation, and late in the day there was no sign of army forces at the protest site.

Pakistan Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said the government had acted in response to an order from the Islamabad High Court to clear the road, and it was now seeking to restart talks with the protesters. “We are trying everything to put this fire out,” Iqbal said late Sunday. A better equipped paramilitary force, the Rangers, which operates under the interior ministry, meanwhile was deployed near the protest site, according to the government.

An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.

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