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Anti-blasphemy party in Pakistan ends blockade

Government agrees to expel French ambassador to quell protests over Charlie Hebdo cartoons

Anti-blasphemy party in Pakistan ends blockade

Tehreek-e-Labaik protesters examine tear gas shells at Faizabad Interchange in Rawalpindi on Nov. 16. (Photo supplied)

A Pakistani religious political party renowned for its strong support of draconian blasphemy laws has ended its blockade of one of the main roads to the capital Islamabad following a deal with the government.

According to the agreement signed on Nov. 16 by Interior Minister for Religious Affair Ijaz Shah Noor-ul-Haq Qadri and Islamabad’s commissioner, the government will expel the French ambassador within two to three months with a consensus from parliament and will not post an ambassador to France. French products will be boycotted at government level and arrested Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) members will be released.

The backlash against France came after cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad were projected onto French government buildings on Oct. 21.

The caricatures from the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were displayed for several hours as part of a tribute to history teacher Samuel Paty, who was beheaded by a Muslim student just days after showing the same cartoons in a class on freedom of speech.

More than 3,000 TLP protesters started a sit-in at Faizabad Interchange in Rawalpindi under heavy rain on Nov. 15.

Cellphone services in Rawalpindi were suspended on Nov. 16 as protesters clashed with police and paramilitary forces deployed at blockades at various entry points of the capital.

The blockade also disrupted an ongoing Bible Marathon that started on Nov. 13 in the Diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi.

“Shipping containers are still blocking roads at several points. We reached Peshawar in five hours taking alternative routes. Normally it only takes three hours,” said Father Anthon Ilyas, rector of St. Joseph Cathedral Church.

“Many schools and petrol pumps were closed. It is wrong to disrupt the system.”

In 2018, TLP leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi was charged with sedition and terrorism for staging violent protests after Catholic death row inmate Asia Bibi was acquitted of blasphemy after spending eight years on death row in Pakistan.

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