Pakistan: Talks falter, more Aasia Bibi protests loom

Religious groups are calling for nationwide strikes on Friday against the acquittal of a Christian woman on blasphemy charges as talks between the government and protesters faltered late Thursday night.

Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi, firebrand head of the newly emerged Sunni group Tehreek e Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), announced the failure of talks in a late-night tweet calling on his followers “to get ready for martyrdom.”

“Our talks with the government have completely failed. There will be a wheel-jam strike in the country on Friday,” the wheelchair-bound Hussain, who is leading a sit-in in the capital Islamabad, said in a tweet.

According to Hussain, the government side that held talks with the protesters also included a senior official of the country’s prime spy agency, Inter Services Intelligence.

However, there was no official word on the failure of talks as otherwise frenzied TV coverage did not air the protests following government orders in an attempt to cool down mounting tensions.

On Thursday thousands blocked roads across Pakistan to protest the Supreme Court acquittal of Aasia Bibi, who was sentenced to death by a district court in 2010 for blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad.

In Pakistan, blaspheming Islam or Muhammad is a criminal offense that can carry the death penalty. While the state has never executed anyone under the law, mere allegations have stirred mass protests and violence.

By Aamir Latif

KARACHI, Pakistan

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