The rally attracted nearly 4,000 protestors who demanded to be allowed at the French embassy in Islamabad. Image Credit: AFP

Rawalpindi: The major roads leading to Pakistan’s capital city remained closed for a second day as religious groups continued their anti-France protests on Monday.

The march organized in the twin city, Rawalpindi, on the call of the radical cleric and leader of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) Khadim Hussain Rizvi, demanded that Pakistan government end diplomatic ties with France against the printing of blasphemous caricatures depicting the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

The rally attracted nearly 4,000 protestors who demanded to be allowed at the French embassy in Islamabad and to send back the French ambassador. The government has so far refused to accept any of the demands, however, allowed them to protest in Rawalpindi.

Protesters clash with police

The rally turned violent on Sunday night when the activists attempted to breach the designated protest area to enter into Islamabad to march towards the French embassy. Police officials requested the marchers to remain peaceful, declaring that they would not be allowed to enter into diplomatic area. Dozens of policemen and protesters were injured in the clashes as cops used teargas shells and water cannons to disperse the protesters pelting stones. More than 200 protestors were also arrested since Sunday, according to local media reports.

To prevent the march towards the diplomatic enclave, the law enforcement agencies used containers and barbed wires to block all major routes leading to Islamabad, which led to traffic jams, closure of businesses and affected routine life. Residents faced uncertainty, as mobile phone services also remained suspended for more than 24 hours to prevent protestors from coordinating and inciting violence. Deputy Commissioner Islamabad, Hamza Shafqat, said that the city authorities were trying their best to keep the roads open and urged people to use “alternate routes”.

Anti-France protest and boycott

Scattered protests have been reported in Pakistan over the past few weeks in response to French leaders’ support to actions considered blasphemy by Muslims and the move sparked anger across the Islamic world. Major supermarkets and businesses in Pakistan also joined the global call by Muslims to boycott French products.

Prime Minister Imran Khan earlier also criticized French President Emmanuel Macron for “encouraging Islamophobia”. In an open letter last month, Khan urged the leaders of Muslim-majority countries “to act collectively to counter growing Islamophobia in non-Muslim states.”

Pakistan’s Foreign Office has also condemned “the systematic resurgence of blasphemous acts of republication of caricatures of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and desecration of the Holy Qur’an by certain irresponsible elements in some developed countries.”