Pak’s extremist group lifts partial siege on Islamabad after talks with govt

PTI, Nov 17, 2020, 5:03 PM IST

Islamabad: Hundreds of activists of an extremist religious group in Pakistan have ended their protest after a senior minister convinced them, two days after they laid a partial siege to the national capital to denounce the publication of blasphemous cartoons in a French magazine and force the government to expel the French ambassador, an official said on Tuesday.

Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) of firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi started the protest march on the Murree Road of the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Sunday.

Riot police had to resort to teargas shelling on Monday against the stone-pelting TLP protesters who succeeded to reach the Faizabad interchange connecting Rawalpindi and Islamabad, where they launched their sit-in.

Though Rizvi did not join them at the sit-in, his representatives were leading the protestors who refused to move away until the basic demand to send back the French envoy was fulfilled.

Officials said that Prime Minister Imran Khan tasked Minister for Religious Affairs Noor ul Haq Qadri to hold talks with the protestors. The minister, accompanied by Interior Minister Ijaz Shah, succeeded to convince the marchers to lift the siege.

District Commissioner of Islamabad Hamza Shafqat announced around midnight that all roads were opened.

A TLP spokesman shared the copy of a four-point agreement showing that the government would take the matter of expulsion of the French ambassador to Parliament and would do necessary legislation within three months on the issue.

He said that the government has also accepted the demand that Pakistan would not appoint its ambassador to France, would boycott the French products and release all the detained workers of the TLP.

However, there was no official confirmation about the agreement. It was reported that more than 200 protestors had been arrested since Sunday.

Though the issue of French ambassador’s expulsion is vague, as per the agreement, the TLP spokesperson said that to get this in writing from the government was considered a big success.

The mobile phone services have been restored in Rawalpindi and Islamabad, a sign that the protest was over.

The TLP first came to limelight in 2017 when it protested against some changes in the oath of elected representatives and organised about a three-week-long sit-in at Faizabad, paralysing life in Islamabad.

It lifted the siege when then Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government fired its law minister. Then opposition leader Imran Khan had supported the TLP’s demands as he was trying to topple the PML-N government.

However, now he faces a similar dilemma, showing that extremists are a threat to everyone, sources said.

Rizvi is considered a controversial cleric and was arrested for asking Army troops to rebel against the Army chief. He spent several months in jail before being released in May 2019.

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