ISLAMABAD: Eleven Pakistani police officers seized by supporters of a radical Islamist group as part of their campaign to get the French ambassador expelled have been released, officials said.
The officers were grabbed as hostages on Sunday by supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) during violent protests in Lahore.
Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid on Monday announced that after a successful round of negotiation with TLP, the banned outfit had released 11 policemen taken hostage from Lahore a day earlier. “First round of negotiations have been successful which have led to TLP releasing the policemen it had held hostage. The second round of negotiations will begin after ‘sehri’,” The Express Tribune quoted the Minister as saying in a video message.
The 11 hostages included a Deputy Superintendent of Police. On Sunday, clashes erupted between TLP members and police at Multan road in Lahore, leaving “a few” group supporters killed and more than 100 injured, according to sources. For at least three days, TLP protesters have choked Pakistan, staging sit-ins at the main highways.
Angry mobs have had violent confrontations with the security forces, resulting in martyrdom of three police officers, while a hundred others were critically injured due to the torture and assault they suffered in the hands of the TLP protesters. On April 14, the Pakistan government decided to put a ban on TLP under the anti-terrorism law, the summary of which was later approved by the Prime Minister.
In November last year, the TLP had staged a sit-in in Rawalpindi demanding expulsion of the French Ambassador over publication of blasphemous caricatures. The protest brought the capital Islamabad and other major cities to a complete standstill as highways were blocked by the protesters and violent confrontations with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons were used by security forces to disperse the mob.
However, the group ended the protest after reaching an agreement with the government, claiming that all of its four demands had been accepted. The government had agreed to involve Parliament to decide the matter of expulsion of French Ambassador within three months. As the deadline ended on February 16 and the government failed to meet the agreement terms, TLP decided to take to the streets again with the same demand.
France asks citizens to leave Pak
Meanwhile, the French embassy in Pakistan advised its nationals and companies to temporarily exit the country after cadres of TLP) indulged in violence in all major cities, smashing private vehicles, thrashing policemen and blocking traffic to protest against the arrest of their leader Saad Hussain Rizvi from Lahore.
The French advisory was issued even as the Pakistani cabinet approved a summary to ban TLP by declaring it a “terrorist” organisation. Interior minister Sheikh Rashid said a notification in this regard will be issued shortly. Anti-France sentiment has been at the centre of TLP’s agenda since it held protests last November against comments of President Emmanuel Macron over the publication of cartoons in France depicting Prophet Muhammad.
According to media reports, the French embassy confirmed that, due to the prevailing situation, all French citizens and firms were advised to leave the country temporarily. “The departures will be carried out by existing commercial airlines,” an embassy official said.