Updated: 06/17/2014 20:37 | By Agence France-Presse

Seven dead as police, religious party workers clash in Pakistan

At least seven people were killed on Tuesday when Pakistani police clashed with followers of an influential preacher in Lahore, hospital officials said, a rare act of political violence in the relatively peaceful city. 

Seven dead as police, religious party workers clash in Pakistan

Pakistani policemen look on with their weapons during clashes with supporters of preacher Tahir-ul-Qadri in Lahore, on June 17, 2014 - by Arif Ali

The clashes involved supporters of cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri who resides in Canada but came to Pakistan last year to lead a major anti-corruption march prior to elections.

The cleric, who is seen as a religious moderate, is due to return on June 23 where he hopes to lead a "peaceful revolution" against the country's parliamentary democracy.

The violence came as Pakistan's military is engaged in a major offensive against Taliban militants in the country's restive northwest and could put political pressure on the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

"We received seven dead bodies including two women. All of them had bullet wounds," said Doctor Abdul Rauf, Medical Superintendent at the city's Jinnah Hospital.

"We also received 80 injured, 40 with bullet injuries and 40 with other wounds. Two injured are critical," he said.

Muhammad Rizwan, another member of the medical staff, confirmed that the dead bodies had been received.

Police said the clashes began when they went to remove what they called illegal security barricades from the office of Qadri's Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), meaning 'Pakistan People's Movement', in the city's Model Town suburb on Monday night.

"When police arrived to remove illegal encroachments, party workers started pelting stones and threw petrol bombs from the roof," the city's police chief Chaudhry Shafiq told AFP.

He also disputed the number of dead, and said police were among those injured.

"I can confirm five deaths and at least 27 policemen were also wounded, two of them critically," Shafiq said, adding that "deaths are from the bullets fired by workers, not police".

- Party accuses PM -

Shahid Mursaleen, a spokesman for the party, accused Prime Minister Sharif of having a direct hand in the killings.

"These killings have been made on the orders of Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif. We will register police cases against Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif and their team," he said.

"We are a peaceful party but if such brutal acts by the government continue, our workers will come on roads and then they will get out of Doctor Qadri's control," he added.

The event also lead to protests by PAT supporters in the central city of Multan where they burnt tyres at the city's main Ali Chowk.

In Karachi, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party which controls the city announced a day of mourning.

"We have appealed to the people to observe a day of mourning all over the country to show solidarity with the innocent victims of today's brutal act," Haider Abbas Rizvi, a senior leader of the party told AFP.

The PAT did not participate in last year's elections which saw Sharif sweep to power, criticising the current system of parliamentary democracy for being corrupt and lacking legitimacy.

Qadri led a rally of 100,000 people to the capital ahead of the polls, where he gave the government an ultimatum to initiate reforms or face the prospect of prolonged protest.

Commentators suggested PAT's founder and leader Qadri was working with the country's powerful military establishment in order to undermine civilian rule.

He is viewed as a religious moderate and has authored numerous books as well as a fatwa denouncing suicide bombs.

A Canadian citizen, he is something of a favourite on the international lecture circuit and has been a guest at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

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