Pakistan TLP stones protest
Supporters of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party throw stones over the police armoured vehicle during a protest against the arrest of their leader as he was demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador over depictions of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), in Barakahu neighbourhood of Islamabad on April 13, 2021. Image Credit: AFP

Islamabad: At least four people, including two police officers, have been killed and over 100 injured in fierce clashes between police and protesting Islamists in major cities of Pakistan as protestors demanded action against France’s what they call “anti-Islamic act”.

The government decided to deploy the military troops (rangers) in different cities of Punjab including Lahore, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala and Bahawalpur to maintain law and order situation as the protest entered the third day amid the worsening pandemic situation and beginning of Ramadan.

Prime Minister Imran Khan and key ministers have made it clear that the government would not bow to any pressure tactics by the protestors and no one would be allowed to take the law into their own hands. “Everyone has a right to protest and we are ready to hold talks” with the religious party but would not succumb to pressure from any group, federal minister Fawad Chaudhry said.

What sparked the protests?

Protests erupted across major cities in Pakistan on April 12 after far-right religious party Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) chief Saad Hussain Rizvi was detained by security forces in Lahore for threatening countrywide protests if the government did not expel the French ambassador over depictions of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) in France.

Rizvi’s detention sparked violent rallies as protestors blocked roads and highways in several cities, partly paralysing commercial activities in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad.

Police officers killed

Over 300 policemen in Punjab, including 97 in Lahore, have been injured, many of them seriously. Two police constables Mohammed Afzal and Ali Imran were killed in the clashes after the violent protesters attacked with clubs and firearms. The use of firearms by protestors was described as a “dangerous sign of violent agitation” by law enforcement agencies as four policemen were shot and injured in Lahore and at least two in Faisalabad.

Expressing serious concerns over the use of arms, Lahore DIG (operations) Sajid Kiani told the media that “TLP armed men opened straight fire on the police and our four constables were injured.” Over 1,400 activists and protestors have been arrested from all over the province, according to the police.

What are the protestors demanding?

The TLP supporters led an anti-France protest in Islamabad last November, blocking highways and main entry and exit routes. The group called off protests last year after reaching an agreement with the government to expel the French envoy following the discussion in the parliament before April 20. The government’s move to arrest the TLP chief to assuage the anger of the hardline group ahead of planned demonstrations, however, backfired as thousands of protestors took to the streets mostly in Punjab following Rizvi’s arrest and vowed to continue protest “until the French envoy is deported.”