Islamabad, Apr 19 (EFE).- Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday referred to the struggling economy to call for an end to Islamist protests that have rocked the country over the past week and stressed that expelling the French ambassador over the issue of controversial cartoons of Prophet Muhammad would only harm Pakistan.
“If we expel the French ambassador, the loss will be to Pakistan, it will make no difference to France,” Khan said in a televised speech.
He argued that severing ties with the European nation would result in falling exports, rising unemployment, closure of factories, rising inflation and an increase in poverty.
“So, will it damage us or France?’ asked the prime minister, who insisted that breaking ties with France would mean affecting relations with the entire European Union, the destination for around half of Pakistan’s total textile exports.
Khan’s statement comes after week-long protests by the recently banned Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), an Islamist group which has been demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador and termination of diplomatic ties with his country.
The protests kicked off after the arrest of TLP leader Saad Rizvi and have resulted in four deaths and around 800 people getting injured, Khan said in his speech.
The prime minister insisted that the TLP’s objective was the same as that of his government – stopping blasphemy against Islam and its prophet in the world – but their methods were different.
“You want to hold protests in your country , the only thing that is affected is your country,” Khan said.
He said that the West had turned the matter into a question of freedom of expression and the way forward was explaining how Muslims felt about Prophet Muhammad to other countries
After the TLP was banned on Apr. 15, clashes broke out in Lahore on Sunday, where 11 police officers were taken hostage by the Islamist group’s supporters and freed in the early hours of Monday after negotiations.
Talks between Islamists and the government continued throughout the day and another round is expected to kick off on Monday night.
A number of religious parties had called for a national strike on Monday, including the closure of businesses, a call that witnessed a mixed response in different parts of the country.
Tensions with France broke out in October last year over President Emmanuel Macron’s allegedly “blasphemous” comments on Islam and his defense of the cartoons, after a teacher in the European country was beheaded for showing the caricatures of the Prophet to his students.
Last week the French government urged its citizens to leave Pakistan due to rising threats. EFE