Over a thousand supporters of Mumtaz Qadri, executed for killing liberal Punjab governor Salman Taseer, on Wednesday refused to obey a second call to end their days-old protest here until the government accepts their demand of declaring the Islamist assassin a "martyr".
Over 7,000 security personnel have been deployed in Islamabad's Red Zone and are readying to forcibly evict the protesters as they have ignored repeated warnings to end their stir peacefully, a senior government official said.
Over 25,000 supporters of Qadri, executed in late February five years after he assassinated Taseer, had entered and besieged Islamabad's Red Zone on Sunday, damaging public buildings and clashing with police in which 42 security officials and 16 citizens have been injured so far.
The four-day-old stand-off between the Islamist protesters and authorities comes in the backdrop of deadly terror attack on Easter Sunday in Lahore in which over 70 people, mostly Christians, were killed. Jamaatul Ahrar, a splinter faction of Tehreek-e- Taliban Pakistan has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Earlier on Wednesday, the police issued a second call to protesters to disperse peacefully before evening after a similar warning to "use force" by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan last night went unheeded.
Over 1,100 protesters were arrested on Tuesday in a police operation after Khan's warning. However, 1,500-2,000 protesters are still camped in front of the parliament and have refused to end their protests until all of their demands are accepted.
A senior police official said that all preparations were in place to clear the D-Chowk, the venue of protests.
"More than 7,000 security personnel of police and paramilitary are ready to take action," he said.
Apart from declaring Qadri a "martyr", the protesters are also demanding Sharia law, release of their arrested leaders, declaring Qadri's Adiala Jail cell in Rawalpindi into a national heritage and execution of blasphemy convict Christian women Aasia Bibi who was sentenced to death in 2010 by a court.
"The government may agree to release the arrested leaders but it will not accept other demands," a senior government officials said, adding the country had suffered a loss of about 150 million rupees due to vandalism by the protesters.
Qadri, who was Tasser's security guard, has killed the sitting governor of Punjab, Pakistan's most populous state, in 2011 after he visited Aasia Bibi in her jail cell and expressed support for her, even promising a presidential pardon to the mother-of-five.
Qadri was hanged on February 29 after all of his appeals were rejected by higher courts.
Image: Islamist activists gather outside the Parliament building to protest the execution of Mumtaz Qadri in Islamabad, Pakistan. Photograph: Faisal Mahmood/Reuters