Pakistan's Law Minister Resigns As Anti-Blasphemy Protests Leave Seven Dead

Pakistan's law minister has resigned following mounting pressure due to violent anti-blasphemy protests that left at least seven dead and 200 injured in the country.

Zahid Hamid handed in his resignation to Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi "to take the country out of a crisis-like situation," Reuters said, quoting state-run news channel PTV on November 27.

The decision came as people took to the streets of the capital Islamabad to protest against the change of wording of an electoral oath for lawmakers.

The words "I believe" replaced the original clause "I solemnly swear" in a proclamation of Mohammad as Islam's last prophet. Some hardline Muslims believe the amendment amounted to blasphemy and was done to appease religious minorities they regard as infidels.

The government blamed the change on a clerical error. In spite of a swift reversal, protests organized by the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah party erupted in Islamabad and later spread to other cities.

Demonstrations continued for weeks. Some reports claimed protesters broke in Hamid's residence in the Punjab province, but the minister and his family were not at home at the time of the incident.

Amid escalating violence, the government imposed a temporary blackout on some social media and private news channels and called on the army to intervene to restore peace in Islamabad after police failed to clear a sit-in on November 25.

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The botched operation culminated with violent clashes as hundreds of protesters turned up unexpectedly. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets against demonstrators who, in turn, hurled rocks and tear gas shells.

Hamid's resignation was one of the protesters' key demands. After the minister announced he was stepping down, Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah said it was peacefully dispersing demonstrators, the Associated Press reported.

The party chief, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, told supporters at a sit-in in Islamabad they were "immediately ending" the rally. He also thanked the army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, for facilitating an agreement whereby Hamid would resign and detained party activists would be released.

The opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party accused the government of failing to remove protesters and called for early elections, scheduled to take place in 2018.