Pakistan, Islamists reach agreement to end violent rally
ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s government and an outlawed radical Islamist party Sunday reached an agreement to end a 10-day long — and at times deadly violent — rally calling for the closure of France’s embassy and the release of the party’s leader.
Neither Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi nor religious leader Mufti Muneebur Rehman, who took part in the talks, gave any details of the agreement at a news conference in the capital Islamabad.
Thousands of supporters of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party marched from Lahore on Oct. 22 toward the capital Islamabad. They demanded the expulsion of France’s envoy to Pakistan over publication of caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad in France. The protest march saw supporters clash with police at several points along the way.
At least seven police officers and four demonstrators were killed.
“Details and positive results of the agreement will come before the nation in a week or so,” said Rehman, who said he had the endorsement of TLP party leader Saad Rizvi.
The violence erupted a day after the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan said it would not accept the Islamists’ demand to close the French Embassy and expel the French envoy.
It wasn’t immediately clear Sunday when the party would end its rally. Thousands of supporters halted their march in Wazirabad, about 185 kilometers (115 miles) from the capital Friday after roads and bridges ahead of them were blocked. Paramilitary rangers were deployed to stop the protesters from continuing toward the capital.
Sajid Saifi, TLP spokesman, said supporters were ready to “pack up” but were awaiting instructions from the party’s leadership. He said he hoped party leader Saad Rizvi and all the supporters arrested in recent days would be released soon.
Besides demanding expulsion of the French ambassador, the TLP was also pressing for the release of its leader, Rizvi, who was arrested last year for inciting supporters to stage an anti-France protest.
Rizvi’s party started demanding the expulsion of French envoy in October 2020 after French President Emmanuel Macron tried to defend caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad as freedom of expression. Macron’s comments came after a young Muslim beheaded a French school teacher who had shown the caricatures in class. The images were republished by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to mark the opening of the trial over the deadly 2015 attack against the publication for the original caricatures.
Rizvi’s party gained prominence in Pakistan’s 2018 elections, campaigning on the single issue of defending the country’s blasphemy law, which calls for the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam.
Dogar reported from Lahore.