ISLAMABAD - At least 300 people were wounded in clashes between police and protesters in Pakistan's capital Islamabad, hospital officials said Sunday, as a fortnight-long political impasse took a violent turn.
The violence, which began late Saturday and continued early Sunday, erupted after around 25,000 people marched from parliament to the prime minister's house, where some attempted to remove barricades around it with cranes, an AFP reporter at the scene said.
Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Islamabad police chief Khalid Khattak told AFP police exercised restraint but the protesters were armed with axes, wire cutters and hammers.
"They had a crane and drove it until the entrance of the presidency. We are using only tear gas and firing rubber bullets where needed," Khattak said.
Railways minister Khawaja Saad Rafique said protesters tried to uproot the entry gate of the prime minister's house.
The protesters, led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and populist cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, had been camped outside parliament house since August 15 demanding Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif quit amid allegations of vote rigging.
The crisis took on a new dimension earlier in the week after the government asked the powerful army to mediate, raising fears the military would use the situation to enact a "soft coup" and increase its dominance over civilian authorities.
"There are 1,600 to 2,000 trained terrorists. They have 200 women who are trained in the use of firearms and they have come with the intention of occupying state buildings," Defence Minister Khawaja Asif told AFP as the fighting broke out late Saturday.
"These are buildings that are symbols of the state," he said. "Their attempts are being resisted. And we will resist these with full force." AFP's correspondent at the scene said protesters were carrying batons, iron rods and sling-shots.
The injured were rushed to Islamabad's two main hospitals, and the number of casualties is expected to rise as clashes continue.