Pakistan frees detained protesters after deal with Islamists

AFP , Tuesday 2 Nov 2021

Authorities in Pakistan released hundreds of detained supporters of a banned Islamist party on Tuesday after a deal was struck with the group to end clashes that left seven policemen dead.

Supporters of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party gather in a protest march in Muridke, on October 24, 2021, during a march towards Islamabad demanding the release of their leader Hafiz Saad Hussain Rizvi, son of late Khadim Hussain Rizvi, founder of hardline religious political party Tehreek-e-Labbaik. AFP

The Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) was protesting over the detention of its leader, arrested in April when the group was outlawed by authorities, and was demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador from Pakistan.

The group has been behind major anti-France protests that earlier this year led to the French embassy issuing a warning for all its citizens to leave the country.

"I can confirm 860 people have been released," Mazhar Hussain, a police spokesman in Punjab province, told AFP.

Other detainees from the protest who had charges filed against them would have to go through the "legal process" to secure their release, he added.

A TLP leader, Mufti Muhammad Umair al-Azhari, confirmed to AFP that many of the party's supporters had been freed.

"These are clearly the fruits of the agreement that we had with the government," he told AFP.

Several thousand supporters began a stop-start march from the eastern city of Lahore to the capital Islamabad last week, reaching about one third of the way before calling it off.

But they are continuing the protest with a sit-in at a park in the city of Wazirabad, with leaders saying they will only disperse once 50 percent of the terms of their agreement with the government are fulfilled.

The TLP has said 14 of its supporters were killed in the clashes with police and scores were left injured. The government said TLP supporters shot dead police.

The party has waged an anti-France campaign since President Emmanuel Macron defended the right of a satirical magazine to republish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed -- an act deemed blasphemous by many Muslims.

Six police officers were killed in April when the TLP staged days of rallies that paralysed roads.

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