Pakistani President met with protest on fifth day of UK tour


The president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, was met with a 250-strong protest today, during his visit to Birmingham, England. The protest was held outside the International Convention Centre (ICC) venue in the British city, where the president addressed supporters of his Pakistan Peoples Party and leading figures of the Pakistani community. Al Jazeera reported that two shoes were thrown at Zardari as he delivered his address, by a man who reportedly managed to break through police barriers to make a personal protest against the President.

Pakistan is experiencing the worst flooding in eighty years and it has been reported that the floods have now hit 14 million people. The president has faced criticism for continuing his tour during the crisis and though the messages of the protesters were many and varied, shown by placards ranging from “Save Pakistan from American terror and Zardari” to “Stop killing innocent Christians, repeal blasphemy law 295 B and 295 A”, Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher said “[the] one thing they all agree on is that he should not be here.”

Demonstrators braved pelting rain to wave flags, and raise banners and placards in protest against the President's tour. Image: FireLyte-spyre.

Inside the ICC, speaking to a group of supporters, Mr Zadradi said the trip had been crucial in raising more than £20 million in aid from Britain and France and for resolving the diplomatic rift between Pakistan and Britain, caused by British Prime Minister David Cameron’s comments about alleged Pakistani terror links. David Cameron said on July 28 that “we cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is allowed to look both ways and…promote the export of terror”. The Pakistani President has said that his European tour is essential to mend the diplomatic rift these comments have caused.

The President’s son has also defended the tour, saying “He’s doing the best he can and what he thinks is best to help the people of Pakistan.” He added that “his personal presence in Pakistan would not be able to raise this much money.”

The Financial Times said the President “struggled at times to be heard above the chanting of hundreds of supporters.” The chanting from the protesters arrayed outside the ICC could also be heard from where the President gave his speech. Many were calling for the Prime Minister’s resignation.

According to the Associated Press of Pakistan the President’s trip has been kept as cheap as possible, with Mr Zadradi staying in the “cheapest five-star hotel in Central London” while he met with Mr Cameron. But at today’s protest many held placards decrying the fact that while money was urgently needed in Pakistan the President was taking a tour that would cost the country. Two examples of such placards were: “Thousands dying president is holidaying” and “while Pakistan floods Zadradi enjoys”.

A protester holds a sign reading: "We Reject Mushrraf Policy on Kashmir" and "We Demand Pakistan National Stand on Kashmir." On the left can be seen the ICC, where the President gave his address. Image: FireLyte-spyre.

The demonstration was held in the shadow of the Hyatt Regency Hotel where Mr Zadradi has been staying. It is one of the most expensive hotels in Birmingham but the raised bridge that links directly to the ICC does provide the best security for the President.

Mohammed Khalil, a local official from the Tehreek-e-Insaf party, told the AFP that “He should be there organising for his own people. Instead he’s here with so many people. The government is paying all the expense for that. That money should be spent on the people of Pakistan, not on himself.” However the President’s son said millions had been raised from Britain and France because of the tour, and that the President would return once worldwide attention had died down.

The protest itself carried on for many hours, from before 2:00 in the afternoon until 4:25, when it ended with a prayer ceremony. The protest reflected the prominence of the Islamic faith in Pakistani culture, with a tarpaulin stretched on the ground to allow for Muslim prayer. National feeling was strong, shown by the numerous Pakistani flags being flown, and the presence of the closing religious ceremony and Islamic prayer mirrors the close-knit relationship nationalist and religious feeling have in Pakistan.

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