Pakistan rejects demand for French envoy’s expulsion
3 policemen killed as far-right group marches toward Islamabad
Pakistan's government on Wednesday rejected the demand for expulsion of the French ambassador by a far-right group, which has called fresh protests in the capital Islamabad.
The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a far-right religious group, is demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador over offensive cartoons of Prophet Muhammad published in France last year.
Its other demands include the release of dozens of activists, including the group’s head Allama Saad Rizvi, who had been arrested in April this year, following violent protests across the country.
On Wednesday, thousands of charged activists, who have blocked roads at several points on the historic Grand Trunk Road in northeastern Punjab province, clashed with the security forces, who have been struggling to ward off the protesters from marching toward the capital.
At least three policemen have been killed and over 70 injured in pitched battles between the two sides in different parts of the province over the past two days,” Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said.
The group has already been declared a proscribed organization for its alleged involvement in violent activities.
“The government will no longer treat the TLP as a political entity. Instead, we will treat it as a militant group. It has already been declared a proscribed organization,” Chaudhry said, while addressing a press conference after the Cabinet’s meeting on Wednesday.
The Cabinet meeting which was chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan has rejected the TLP demands, he added.
“Pakistan has fought and defeated terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda. This group has no power compared to Al-Qaeda,” he further said, warning that the government will no longer show restraint in dealing with the violent protests.
“We will not bow to the illegal and unconstitutional demands by the TLP. No group or individual can dictate to the state of Pakistan,” he added.
- Para-military called in
Interior Minister Shaikh Rasheed Ahmed told reporters in Islamabad that the federal government is sending para-military troops to Punjab for the next two months to assist the police to hold off the protests.
“We cannot shut down the French Embassy. It will mean confrontation with the entire Europe,” Ahmed said, while addressing a separate press conference.
Protests had broken out in several Muslim countries over France’s response to the murder in October last year of a teacher who showed cartoons of Prophet Muhammad during a class.
French President Emmanuel Macron said at the time that France would “not give up our cartoons” while accusing French Muslims of “separatism” and describing Islam as “a religion in crisis.”
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