Protesters will not be allowed to dictate govt on Aasia verdict: Pakistan

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Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has said the government, the opposition and all the ‘state institutions’ are on the same page regarding the strategy to deal with protestors who have blocked the main arteries of the country in protest against acquittal of a blasphemy accused, Aasia Bibi.

“It is seditious to challenge the writ of the state but the government will show patience and will give them a chance to resolve the issues peacefully,” Chaudhry said on Thursday while addressing a press conference along with Minister for Planning Khusro Bakhtiar after a federal cabinet meeting.

Fawad Chaudhry said the opposition parties have been taken into confidence on the ongoing protests following the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Aasia Bibi case.

Bibi – a Christian woman who accused of blasphemy in 2009 and later sentenced to death by a trial and a high court – was acquitted by the SC on Wednesday. This decision triggered immediate and widespread demonstrations in many cities.

“The government is not alone, as the opposition and state institutions are standing behind it. The government intends to avoid use of force against protesters but the state’s leniency should not be mistaken for weakness,” he added.

He said a government delegation, upon Prime Minister Imran Khan’s directives, has met with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif and the Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari to discuss the issue.

“We have taken Shehbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto into confidence regarding the future course of action. The opposition has assured the government of full cooperation on its strategy.

“We will move forward with the opposition’s support.  Any steps taken by the government would be in accordance with the wishes of the parliament,” he added.

The information minister said the PPP has appointed Naveed Qamar and the PML-N has nominated Ayaz Sadiq as focal persons to coordinate with the government for formulating a joint strategy.

To a question, he confirmed that talks with the protesters were also being held to normalise the law and order situation. Chaudhry said the government had also initiated talks with the protesters. He said negotiations are under way in Lahore and Rawalpindi and promised to share the details later.

In a televised address, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday urged the protestors to peacefully return to their homes, warning that otherwise the state would use power.

Repeating the PM’s stance, the minister said no one can be allowed to dictate the state and ‘these elements’ must not pose a challenge to the government or clash with the state.

The minister advised the protesters to choose the path of the Constitution and the law. “Those challenging the government shouldn’t be under any wrong impression”, he said.

He reiterated that people who have challenged the writ of the state will have to pay the price. He said being a responsible nuclear state Pakistan cannot allow a segment to issue edicts for killing people.

Chaudhry said the government cannot allow people to issue fatwas against prime minister, chief of army staff and chief justice of Pakistan. “The government, the prime minister and the ministers have immense love for the Holy Prophet (PBUH). No one should have any doubt about that,” he added.

The minister ducked the question whether the government would file a review petition in the Supreme Court against Aasia Bibi’s acquittal. However, later on he confirmed through a tweet that a review petition against the SC’s verdict has already been filed by a protestor.

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