An anti-government cleric who has been campaigning in Islamabad, calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has ended his 65-day-long protest.
Tahir ul-Qadri – who leads both the Pakistan Awami Tehreek party and the Minhaj-ul-Quran international network of religious schools – announced on Tuesday that he would now tour major Pakistan cities holding sit-ins and agitating for the launch of a “revolution of the poor”.
“This sit-in has achieved its purpose, it has awakened the nation and played its role in the path of revolution,” Qadri told thousands of his supporters.
Soon after Qadri’s announcement, thousands of his protesters started packing up their camps and hugging one another as they said goodbye.
“We have spent a difficult time here and have established good relationships with each other,” said Fauzia Habib., a young girl at the protest area.
“Now when we are leaving I am a bit grim but happy too that we have spent time for a good cause.”
Qadri and cricket star turned politician Imran Khan originally led tens of thousands of marchers from the eastern city of Lahore to the capital on August 14 – Pakistan’s independence day.
For months, they have camped out in front of the parliament building, demanding the resignation of Sharif, who they accuse of vote fraud.
Khan maintains he will not end his protest until Sharif resigns. Qadri, despite ending his Islamabad protest, has rejected claims that he struck some sort of compromise deal with Sharif’s government.
In mid-August, when the protests started, it was widely believed among the demonstrators that Sharif would be gone within days – either through resignation or via military takeover.
But the army has stayed publicly neutral, despite a deadly August 31 clash between police and protesters that left three protesters dead and hundreds injured.
Qadri’s announcement came on the same day ARY, a pro-protest news channel, was taken off air for 15 days after a high court ruled that the broadcaster was “maligning” Pakistan’s judiciary, the country’s media regulation authority said.
Ammad Yousuf, the chief executive of ARY, criticised the ruling and said the channel would challenge PEMRA’s move.
“The decision has been taken in haste without giving us a hearing,” Yousuf told the AP news agency.