Anti-France protesters block highway in Pakistani capital | Pakistan

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Islamabad, Pakistan – More than 1,000 protesters blocked a major highway in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador and the end of diplomatic relations with the European country for perceived Islamophobia.Protesters from the far right Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a radical religious political party that has campaigned to fight blasphemy against Islam, blocked the city’s main Faizabad interchange on Monday, the next day. violent clashes with the police. .

Riot police have been deployed to guard government buildings throughout the capital, with authorities using shipping containers to block important roads around the sit-in site.

Mobile phone services were stranded for a second day in a row across much of the city as authorities tried to disrupt the ability of protesters to organize. Most Pakistani media did not cover the protest.

The TLP, led by religious leader Khadim Husain Rizvi, has often campaigned against the Pakistani government on issues related to blasphemy, a sensitive issue in this South Asian country, where crime carries a death sentence. .

Monday’s protest, which started a day earlier, targeted the government of French President Emmanuel Macron, who in recent months has made statements about Islam and “blasphemy” that have sparked outrage in several majority countries. Muslim, including Pakistan, Turkey and countries around the world. the gulf.

Protesters in Islamabad demanded that the country cut diplomatic relations with France [Anjum Naveed/AP Photo]

In October, following the beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty by an 18-year-old man for showing cartoons of the Prophet of Islam Muhammad in his classroom, Macron hailed the teacher as a ‘quiet hero’.

“Samuel Paty was killed because the Islamists want our future and because they know that with quiet heroes like him, they will never have it,” Macron said.

Most Muslims believe that any portrayal of the prophet is blasphemous.

Previously, in September, Macron had defended the “right to blaspheme” under the rights of freedom of expression, and pledged to fight against what he called “Islamic separatism” in France through administrative measures.

Macron’s remarks angered several world leaders, including Pakistani Imran Khan and Turkish Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and called for a boycott of French products.

Pakistan and France do not have deep economic ties, and bilateral trade between the two countries amounted to just over $ 778,000 last year, according to data from Pakistan’s central bank.

Tear gas shot

In October Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said Macron’s remarks “encouraged Islamophobia”, and the French ambassador to Pakistan was summoned to the country’s foreign ministry to record a protest.

Protesters in Islamabad said the government had not done enough on the issue and demanded that the country cut diplomatic relations with France and expel French Ambassador Marc Barety on the issue.

“Our request is very light, only to dismiss the ambassador and cut ties,” said Zaheer Mushtaq, 35, who had spent the night at the Faizabad demonstration. “It is for the dignity of the Prophet that France violated […] and that cannot be forgiven.

Late Sunday, police used tear gas and batons on protesters as they approached the Faizabad protest site, with local media reporting dozens of injuries after the clash.

Riot police have been deployed in the capital, with authorities using shipping containers to block important roads around the sit-in site [Anjum Naveed/AP Photo]

Al Jazeera was unable to immediately verify the number of injured due to the continued blockade of communications imposed by the authorities.

“We picked up [tear gas] shells coming from the ground as they fired at us and then we threw them at them, ”said Shaukat Hussain, 25, a protester, showing minor burns to his hands.

At the center of the protest, TLP leaders gave speeches chronicling the violence of the night and calling on the protesters to stand firm. A pile of dozens of used tear gas shells lay at their feet.

In 2017, the TLP staged its largest anti-government protest, also in Faizabad, with thousands of protesters camped out for three weeks, demanding that a minor wording change in an electoral oath be overturned.

They succeeded in forcing the change, as well as the resignation of the country’s law minister, Zahid Hamid, who was held accountable by protesters for the issue.

A year later, the group again held days of protests at the site against the acquittal of Christian Aasia Bibi in a blasphemy case, one of the most high-profile cases in the country.

Following the dissolution of this demonstration by the authorities, many TLP leaders, including Rizvi, were accused of “sedition” and arrested. He was released on bail last year.

“We will stay here for a year if we have to,” protester Mushtaq said, as dozens of young men lined up nearby to be served lunch by TLP activists under the bright winter sun. .

Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim



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