Pakistani Islamists call off rally after govt talks

AFP , Monday 1 Nov 2021

A banned Pakistani Islamist party on Monday called off a march to the capital and ended its occupation of a major highway after reaching a deal with the government, following more than a week of 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 Pakistan (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.

Several thousand supporters had begun a stop-start march from the eastern city of Lahore to the capital Islamabad, reaching about one third of the way.

"We have called off our march to Islamabad after reaching an agreement with the government," Sajjad Saifi, a spokesman for the TLP, told AFP.

"Our supporters have moved to the nearby park and until 50 percent of terms are fulfilled we will stay here," Saifi added.

At least seven policemen were killed and several injured in the latest clashes. The TLP said 14 of its supporters were killed and scores injured.

The government said TLP supporters had shot dead police.

As the demonstrators marched from their eastern stronghold of Lahore, several Pakistani cities faced gridlock, with some train services suspended.

The government has refused to comment on the details of the talks, which were held over the weekend.

Local media reported that the government has agreed to lift a ban on the party and not to create legal hurdles in the release of the TLP leader Saad Rizvi.

In return, the TLP has given up the demand for the French ambassador's expulsion.

Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman, a prominent Pakistani cleric who facilitated talks between the two sides, told protesters that the ban on the party would soon be lifted.

The TLP 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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