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7 killed as Pakistan police clash with preacher’s followers

LAHORE, Pakistan — At least seven people have been killed and about 100 wounded in Lahore in violent clashes between the police and followers of Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, a fiery preacher turned political activist who has called for a mass movement against the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

It was the deadliest political confrontation in Lahore, Sharif’s hometown, since a short-lived but turbulent period of emergency rule under the military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf in late 2007. And it came at a critical time for Sharif, who is marshaling public support as the army begins a perilous offensive against the Taliban in the tribal district of North Waziristan.

The clashes started about midnight Monday, when a large contingent of police officers reached the headquarters of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek, Qadri’s party, and demanded that his supporters remove barricades that they called illegal outside the office and an adjoining residence.

The barricades were set up four years ago after Qadri, who is in Canada but has said he will return to Pakistan next Monday, issued a decree against the Taliban and received death threats from the militants.

Qadri’s supporters resisted the police demands and the situation turned violent, with clashes through the night. By morning police reinforcements, including bulldozers and armored vehicles, had arrived to disperse the crowd. Several women and men lay down in front of barriers on the road, challenging the police to run the bulldozers over them.

Police fired tear gas and charged with batons, then fired bullets into the air. Qadri’s supporters accused the police of firing directly into the crowd.

The Lahore police chief, Chaudhry Shafique, accused the protesters of instigating the clashes.

Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab province and a brother of the prime minister, said at a news conference that of the 97 people reported wounded, 27 were police officers. Later, he removed Shafique from his position as police chief.

In January 2013, Qadri led a march of thousands of followers to Islamabad to demand electoral overhauls and the removal of the previous government, which was led by the Pakistan People’s Party.

Under Pakistan’s Constitution, Qadri is barred from participating in elections because of his dual Pakistani and Canadian citizenship.

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