Pakistan police and Qadri supporters in deadly clash

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Muhammad Tahirul Qadri, Sufi cleric and leader of political party Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) gestures as he addresses a news conference outside his residence in Lahore August 9Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Tahirul Qadri addressed supporters outside his home in Lahore

At least six people have been killed in Pakistan's Punjab province, in clashes between police and supporters of anti-government cleric Tahirul Qadri.

Four protesters and two policemen died in clashes that followed the closure of roads into provincial capital Lahore.

Mr Qadri was due to hold a large demonstration in the city on Sunday but told supporters to abandon the plans.

The event was partly to protest against the deaths of at least eight Qadri supporters in at a rally in June.

The cleric said that the latest clashes began on Friday when police tried to stop convoys of protesters gathering near his home in Lahore.

Representatives for Mr Qadri claimed that seven of his supporters were shot dead by police.

After the deaths, the cleric called on his supporters to abandon the planned rally in Lahore.

Police said they fired tear gas and that about 20 officers were wounded, in addition to the two who were killed. Around 500 protesters were also arrested, police said.

Qadri supporters briefly abducted six police officers, before releasing them unharmed.

Military ties

Mr Qadri, who until recently was based in Canada, returned to Pakistan in June and is one of Pakistan's most prominent political and religious figures.

He leads the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) party and has condemned the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as corrupt.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Clashes between his supporters and security forces clashed began on Friday
Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Mr Qadri's supporters regard the government of PM Nawaz Sharif as corrupt
Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Police used shipping containers to block off roads to Lahore, where a large rally had been planned

Mr Qadri says he plans to lead a peaceful revolt against Mr Sharif, who he says has failed to solve basic problems such as unemployment and frequent electricity outages.

At least eight people were killed when police in Lahore used live ammunition against his followers last month.

Correspondents say there is widespread suspicion in Pakistan that Mr Qadri's return was encouraged by Pakistan's powerful military, following recent tensions with the prime minister.

Mr Qadri has called for a military-backed government to take over from Mr Sharif, but has denied being supported by the army.

Opposition politician Imran Khan is also due to lead a large demonstration in Islamabad on Thursday.

He says there were irregularities in the last year's parliamentary elections, in which his Tehreek-e-Insaf party came second.

Police have already blocked off many roads around Islamabad ahead of Mr Khan's protest.

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