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Protesters in Pakistan Storm State Television Station as Demonstrations Continue

Tensions and protester clashes with police escalate in Islamabad amid calls for the Prime Minister to step down.

by Liz Fields
Sep 1 2014, 6:20pm

Photo by AP/Anjum Naveed

Hundreds of anti-government protesters invaded the Pakistani state television channel, PTV, on Monday, briefly taking broadcasts off-air before army and paramilitary forces managed to secure the building and clear demonstrators from the premises.

During the PTV raid, witnesses said the protesters, some bearing sticks and clubs, descended on the station, entering the main control room and smashing computers and other equipment in front of employees. In the chaos, a portrait of embattled Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was taken from the wall, thrown to the ground and stomped, a senior station employee, Athar Farooq, told the Associated Press. According to Farooq, the intruders took instructions over their cell phones and "seemed well trained."

The crowd reportedly scattered and many protesters left peacefully after military security forces arrived to control the situation. TV broadcasts were later restored to air.

The incident occurred as street protests spilled over from the weekend when thousands of protesters swarmed Sharif's residence and the parliament building in Islamabad, calling for the premier's resignation. The protesters clashed violently with police on Saturday and Sunday, leaving three demonstrators dead and more than 400 people injured — including women, children, and policemen. Local hospital officials concluded that one of the protesters drowned in a ditch after his group was hit with tear gas; the other two deaths were a result of rubber bullet wounds.

Watch the VICE News dispatch from the ground in Pakistan.

The violence continued on Monday in the center of Islamabad, in the so-called Red Zone, a congress of buildings that include the prime minister's house, parliament and foreign embassies, according to the Associated Press. Demonstrators bearing clubs and gas marks threw rocks at security forces, injuring five policemen and three protesters who were all taken to hospital.

The clashes come after two weeks of demonstrations led by the opposition leader and former cricket star Imran Khan, as well as Muslim cleric and politician Tahir-ul-Qadri, adding to the surge of public pressure on Sharif to step down amid accusations of mass corruption and election fraud.

Three People Were Killed and 400 Wounded During Protests in Pakistan This Weekend. Read more here.

Dunya News- Protesters shut down PTV transmission by dunyanews

Sharif has refused to vacate power, even as police fought to hold back about 25,000 demonstrators outside his residence on Saturday night, according to local media. Police used batons and fired rubber bullets and canisters of tear gas into crowds. An unspecified number of local journalists who were covering the demonstration were injured in the melee, Pakistani Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique told Dawn News.

Deadly Clashes Erupt in Lahore Between Pakistan Police and Cleric Supporters. Read more here.

"I tried to protect journalists as much as I could and it is true that media personnel were being beaten up," Rafique said, according to the Pakistani media outlet. "I went and embraced some of them so they could be stopped — even I got hit ... This collective attack on the media makes us think that it was planned to make us look bad."

The demonstrations began on Pakistan's Independence Day on August 14, but have seen a rise in both size and violence in recent days, grinding regular operations in the city largely to a halt.

Khan and Qadri have remained on site throughout the ordeal, giving public speeches and condemning police brutality. Khan released a video to Facebook on Saturday calling for "all democracy-loving Pakistanis" to join the protest, a few hours after the cricket-legend-turned-politician alleged that police attacked his bus with tear gas.

Speaking to supporters from his bus on Monday, Khan said his movement was not associated with the protesters who broke into the PTV station, raising questions on the ability of the two leaders to control the escalating demonstrations.

The situation remains deadlocked, as Sharif continues to ignore demands that he leave office. The military has offered to step in to mediate the impasse, though Sharif has increasingly alienated the military through his trial of former Army chief and President Pervez Musharraf on charges of treason.

Khan and Qadri are reportedly both in talks with the military, and the offer of intervention is not widely seen as an attempt by the Army to regain power.

Watch the VICE News dispatch from the ground in Pakistan.

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter:@lianzifields

prime minister
Imran Khan
nawaz sharif
state tv station