Deadly clashes as banned Pakistani party continues to protest

A radical Islamist party said on Saturday that five of its supporters died in clashes with authorities in Lahore, eastern Pakistan, after two police officers were killed in the unrest.

On Friday, more than 1,000 people from Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) gathered after prayers to demand the release of their detained leader, blocking roads and firing projectiles.

The protests continued on Saturday.

The TLP has already been behind large anti-France protests which earlier this year led the embassy to issue a warning to all French citizens to leave the country.

“Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan lost two people on Friday evening and three more today due to police fire,” the party tweeted on Saturday.

Lahore police declined to comment on the complaint, but said on Friday evening that two of its officers had died.

“The clashes continue,” Rana Arif, spokesperson for the Lahore police, told AFP.

“This is a defensive police operation against the crowd … We are just bombing to control the crowd.”

TLP leader Saad Rizvi was arrested in April when the Pakistani government banned the party in response to violent anti-France protests.

The partisans threatened to move in convoys to the capital Islamabad, where the police closed the roads using shipping containers.

The party has vowed not to end the protests or start talks with the government until their leader is released.

Home Secretary Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, who was in Dubai to watch Pakistan compete in the T20 Cricket World Cup, has returned home following Prime Minister Imran Khan’s directive to monitor the situation.

The TLP has been waging an anti-France campaign since President Emmanuel Macron defended the right of a satirical magazine to republish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, an act deemed blasphemous by many Muslims.

Six police officers were killed in April when the TLP organized days of rallies that paralyzed the roads.

Few issues are as galvanizing in Pakistan as blasphemy, and even the slightest suggestion of insulting Islam can energize protests, incite lynchings, and unite most of the country’s warring political parties.

kf-jaf / ecl / axn