Pakistan protesters demand expulsion of French envoy

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KARACHI, Pakistan

Supporters of a Pakistani religious party clashed with police for a second day on Tuesday, as they demanded the expulsion of a French envoy over offensive cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammad.

Casualties were reported as activists of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which led an anti-France sit-in in the capital Islamabad last November, blocked highways, railway tracks, and main entry and exit routes, paralyzing commercial and business activities in major cities.

In response, security forces blocked all major thoroughfares leading to the capital. Paramilitary troops were also deployed for the security of government buildings.

Last year, the group called off its protest after reaching an agreement with the government to involve the parliament in meeting its demands that included the expulsion of the French ambassador and boycott of French products.

Protests had broken out in several Muslim countries over France’s response to the murder of a French teacher who showed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in class.

French President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to him, and said France would “not give up our cartoons.” He also accused French Muslims of “separatism,” and described Islam as a “a religion in crisis.”

Earlier this year, the deadline for a parliament resolution in this regard was revised until April 20.

Police in the northeastern city of Lahore arrested Saad Rizvi, son of the group’s late founder Khadim Rizvi, ahead of planned demonstrations against the government. He had asked his supporters in a video message to prepare for a long march to Islamabad if their demands are not met.

Tayyab Rizvi, a TLP spokesman, said the protests will continue “until the French envoy is deported.”

The TLP shot to fame in 2017 when its supporters staged a days-long protest in the capital against alleged legislation aimed at changing the status of the Ahmadiyya sect, which has been declared non-Muslim in Pakistan.

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