Islamists hold anti-government march in Pakistan over Prophet caricatures

Islamabad, Oct 22 (EFE).- Thousands of supporters of a banned Islamist outfit began a march towards the Pakistan capital Friday to build pressure on the government over an agreement with the group for the expulsion of the French ambassador.

The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan protesters asked the government to release its jailed workers and sever diplomatic ties with France.

The government last year allegedly agreed to the demands of the far-right group after Pakistan witnessed a series of protests against France and its president, Emmanuel Macron, for his comments about Islam and his refusal to ban the cartoons allegedly mocking Prophet Mohammad.

Macron was last year accused of attacking and ridiculing Islam and hurting the sentiments of millions of Muslims across the world after he made comments in the wake of the beheading of a French schoolteacher by a Chechen student in October last year.

Samuel Paty, a 47-year-old secondary school history and geography teacher, was killed by the knife-wielding Islamist attacker because he had shown the cartoons to students during a class on freedom of expression.

Images of the Prophet are considered deeply offensive by many Muslims.

TLP spokesperson Ali Raza told EFE that “thousands of our workers are marching towards Islamabad” to remind the government of its pledge last year.

He said some thousands of the TLP protesters would hold a sit-in in Islamabad until the government implemented the agreement.

Police officer Furqan Ali told EFE that around 2,000 TLP workers were marching to Islamabad from Lahore.

He said security forces were guarding the highway to the capital to stop the marchers.

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed Thursday ruled out the expulsion of the French ambassador from Islamabad.

“If we expel the French ambassador, we will be out of the European Union,” Rashid said.

However, Raza recalled that the government had earlier agreed to expel the envoy and release all of TLP workers, including chief Maulana Saad Rizvi.

Police have allegedly rounded up more than 1,200 TLP activists from across the eastern Punjab province and blocked all roads to the capital.

Hundreds of TLP workers have been protesting for the last two weeks against the continued detention of Rizvi in Lahore, the group’s stronghold.

The party gave a two-day ultimatum to the government that ended Thursday.

In April, the government banned the TLP after its activists staged three days of violent protests after the arrest of their leader Rizvi. EFE


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