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Islamist protesters celebrate after Pakistan's law minister resigns

Pakistani Islamists are celebrating after the country's law minister resigned, caving in to fundamentalist protesters who have been demanding his removal in a three-week rally.

After Zahid Hamid's resignation, the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah party, which was behind the sit-in in Islamabad and protests in other cities and towns across Pakistan, said they were dispersing peacefully under an agreement with the government.

The development underscored how a small Islamist party was able to pressure the Pakistani government and force it to accept its demands through a protracted stand-off.

The Islamists had demanded Mr Hamid's resignation over an omitted reference to Islam's Prophet Mohammed in a parliamentary bill.

He apologised for the omission in the bill, saying it was a clerical error that was later corrected, b ut the Islamists persisted, taking to the streets and setting up a sit-in at the Faizabad intersection on the edge of the Pakistani capital.

The Islamists effectively blocked the country's key highway, the Grand Trunk Road motorway, linking Islamabad with the eastern Punjab province and the north west, disrupting life and forcing commuters to look for alternate routes.

Clashes erupted on Saturday when riot police tried to disperse the Islamabad sit-in and descended on the protesters with tear gas and batons, leaving six dead and dozens injured.

The violent crackdown also triggered solidarity protests by Islamists in other cities and towns, leading to what could have been a major political crisis that could have paralysed many urban areas.

Mr Hamid submitted his resignation to prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi late on Sunday after security forces held back from another attempt to disperse the protesters, three security officials said.

Interior minister Ahsan Iqbal told the chief justice of the Islamabad High Court, Shaukat Sadiqui, on Monday that the government signed an agreement with the rally organisers to avoid a "civil-war like situation".

Islamabad-based analyst Imtiaz Gul described the outcome as a "retreat" by the state. He said Saturday's crackdown was "miserably planned and poorly executed".

At the Faizabad intersection, jubilant Islamists kissed the hand of their leader and party chief, firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, handed out sweets and chanted, "God is Great" and "Prophet, we are here for you".

In announcing the deal with the government, Mr Rizvi told supporters they "are immediately ending" the rally. He also thanked the army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, for facilitating the agreement under which Mr Hamid would resign and all detained party activists would be freed.

Mr Rizvi asked his followers to pack up but await the return of their detained activists so they could all go back together to the city of Lahore, the party's base.

After he spoke, security forces began removing shipping containers surrounding the sit-in that had meant to prevent the protest from spreading deeper into the city.

Under the deal, the Islamists also agreed not to issue a fatwa, a Muslim edict that could endanger Mr Hamid. The minister's home in eastern Punjab province was twice attacked by Islamists though he was not there at the time.

AP

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