Supporters of Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan, a banned Islamist party, celebrate after capturing a police vehicle during their protest march toward Islamabad, on a highway in the town of Sadhuke, in eastern Pakistan, on Wednesday, October 27, 2021. Image Credit: AP

Lahore: Four Pakistani police were killed and hundreds wounded when armed activists from a banned Islamist group clashed with security forces at a anti-blasphemy demonstration near the eastern city of Lahore, officials said.

The clash broke out at a rally of the banned Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) on a highway in Sheikhupura, just outside Lahore, as the group prepared to march on the capital Islamabad, a spokesman for the Punjab police said on Wednesday.

Police said TLP activists armed with pistols and automatic weapons including AK-47 rifles opened fire on security forces controlling the demonstrators.

Rao Sardar Ali Khan, inspector general of the Punjab police, said four officers were killed and at least 263 wounded. TLP spokespeople said several of the group’s activists had also been killed or wounded in the clash.

Thousands of TLP activists have blocked Pakistan’s busiest highway since Friday, demanding the release of their leader and the expulsion of France’s ambassador over the publication by a satirical magazine of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).

After negotiations with the government failed, the demonstrators began marching towards the capital Islamabad on Wednesday.

Police said they had tried to block the march, which triggered the clashes.

The highway sit in followed clashes in the eastern city of Lahore on Friday that killed three police.