Army personnel resolve situation after reaching building nearly 30 minutes after rioters broke into state-owned TV channel.
Hundreds of rioters trying to topple Pakistan’s government stormed the state broadcaster on Monday, intensifying the political crisis gripping the nation.
Transmissions of the Pakistan Television (PTV) news channel were cut for around half an hour before security forces cleared the mob from the building in Islamabad’s high security ‘Red Zone.’
The brief seizing of PTV by rioters armed with clubs came after street clashes earlier in the morning in which police were pelted with rocks and responded with teargas.
Late on Sunday the Army called for a peaceful settlement of the political crisis that has shaken Pakistan and weakened the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The military urged the government and Pakistan Awami Tehreek and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf protesters to settle their differences peacefully, but warned it was “committed to playing its part in ensuring security of the state” after clashes left three dead and hundreds injured.
Fresh clashes erupted on Monday morning as heavy rain fell on the capital, when more than 3,000 demonstrators again tried to march on the building, an AFP journalist at the scene said.
The rioters pelted police with stones and some smashed up motorbikes with wooden clubs. Police tried to respond with tear gas but the heavy rain appeared to make it ineffective. Some managed to breach the perimeter fences of some official buildings, but paramilitary security forces stopped them at the entrance to the P.M.’s House.
Both cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and populist cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri appeared on the shipping containers they have used as stages to urge their supporters not to resort to violence. An AFP reporter saw more than 300 rioters, many armed with wooden clubs, enter the PTV building shouting anti-government slogans. According to a PTV spokesman, at least 1,500 rioters were involved in the assault. He told local media they had cut transmission wires, damaged equipment and beaten up security personnel. Television footage showed some of them beating a photo of Sharif with sticks and spitting on it.
After the PTV building was cleared and transmission restarted, both Khan and Qadri tried to distance themselves from the incident, saying their activists were not involved. However, footage of the incident broadcast on local media clearly shows the rioters shouting slogans in favor of Qadri and Khan.