Islamabad: A banned Pakistani Islamist group called an end to violent nationwide anti-France protests, after the government called a parliamentary vote on whether to expel the French envoy and said it would halt criminal cases against the group’s members. Pakistan arrested the leader of the group Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan on April 12 and banned the group after its members blocked main highways, railways and access routes to major cities, assaulting police and burning public property. The group has demanded that Pakistan expel the French ambassador in retaliation for the publication in France of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammed. Four police officers were killed, 11 taken hostage and more than 800 wounded during week-long clashes.
PM Imran Khan warned that Pakistan risked paying a price if it expelled the French envoy, as half the country’s exports are sold to the EU. Nevertheless, interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad said that the government had agreed “after long negotiations with the TLP” to put a resolution before parliament on whether to expel the ambassador. All criminal cases registered against TLP would also be withdrawn as a result of the deal with the group, which in return would end its protests, the minister said.
The TLP responded by releasing an audio statement of its spokesman Shafiq Amini saying: “It is requested to end protests wherever they are happening across the country.” However there was no sign that crowds were dispersing at the biggest protest in Lahore. Later, a resolution calling for a debate on the envoy’s expulsion was presented in a specially-convened session. The government referred the resolution to a committee, and the session was adjourned. The opposition protested, demanding details of the deal with the TLP.