Tension rises as Pak Tahirul Qadri returns to lead ‘revolution’

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Tahirul Qadri addresses his supporters in Lahore.

Tahirul Qadri addresses his supporters in Lahore.

LAHORE: A populist Canada-based cleric returned to Pakistan on Monday to try to start what he has called a “peaceful revolution” against the government, as his supporters engaged in violent clashes with police.

Tahir-ul-Qadri touched down in the eastern city of Lahore after his flight was diverted from Islamabad following violence at the capital’s airport.

A spokesman for Islamabad police said more than 70 officers were wounded, with several suffering broken bones and head injuries.

In January, Qadri drew tens of thousands of people to a sit-in protest in Islamabad.

On Monday his supporters, armed with sticks and bricks, clashed with baton-wielding police at Islamabad’s airport, where Qadri had been due to arrive on an Emirates flight.

The plane was diverted to Lahore “to ensure the safety of the passengers and aircraft,” according to a civil aviation official. But for several hours Qadri refused to get off.

The 63-year-old demanded protection from the military before agreeing to disembark. He finally left the aircraft accompanied by Punjab Gov. Mohammad Sarwar and opposition politician Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi. Qadri said he held the prime minister and his brother Shahbaz Sharif, chief minister of Punjab, responsible for the killing of his party workers last week, comparing the pair to “Hitler and Mussolini.”

Addressing workers at his residence later, Qadri said he would “announce a date for revolution” shortly. “I will give a sudden call,” he said. “The rulers will try to run away, but I won’t let the looters run away.”

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