Authorities reportedly deploy paramilitary forces to major cities and issue instructions to restrict internet in capital's sensitive areas as protesters demand the release of a party leader and expulsion of France's envoy from Pakistan.

A supporter of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) political party hurls stones towards police (not pictured) during a protest against the arrest of their leader in Lahore, Pakistan, April 13, 2021.
A supporter of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) political party hurls stones towards police (not pictured) during a protest against the arrest of their leader in Lahore, Pakistan, April 13, 2021. (Reuters)

Pakistan’s Federal Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad has said Islamabad will outlaw a hardline religious group after two police officers were killed in protests orchestrated over country’s ties with France over French cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad.

Tehrik-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which has made the denunciation of blasphemy against Islam its rallying cry, has held three days of violent protests in which more than 100 police officers have been hurt. It is demanding the government expel the French ambassador and endorse a boycott of French products.

"We have decided to ban the TLP," Rashid told reporters in Islamabad. 

Police cleared a key road that was blocked by demonstrators on the outskirts of Islamabad. But they were still trying to bring the situation under control in Rawalpindi, Lahore and elsewhere, officials said on Wednesday.

The government action comes two days after the arrest of Saad Rizvi, head of the Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party, sparked protests by his supporters.

Police said two officers died after being wounded in clashes in Lahore, the country's second-biggest city, while the TLP said three of its supporters were killed.

Police have not commented on the reported TLP deaths.

Police said Tuesday that he had been charged under anti-terrorism laws.

"A group or party shouldn't even think of dictating the state's policy," Fawad Chaudhry, the science and technology minister, told reporters, calling for the protests to be resolved peacefully.

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The demonstrations began on Monday after police arrested Rizvi for threatening protests if the government did not expel France’s ambassador over depictions of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

According to police, Rizvi's arrest was aimed at maintaining law and order. But Rizvi’s detention quickly sparked violent protests by religious groups. The protesters blocked highways and roads in several cities.

The deadly clashes come three days after Rizvi in a statement asked the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan to honor what he said was a commitment it made in February. 

He said Khan promised his party to expel the French envoy before April 20 over the publication in France of depictions of Islam’s Prophet. However, the government has said it only committed to discussing the matter in Parliament.

The reaction from Rizvi’s supporters against his arrest was so swift that police could not clear main highways and roads. Thousands of people were stranded in their vehicles. 

Monday's clashes initially erupted in Lahore and later spread to other cities, including the southern port city of Karachi.

Rising tensions with France

Rizvi emerged as the leader of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan party in November after the sudden death of his father, Khadim Hussein Rizvi. 

Tehreek-e-Labaik and other religious parties have denounced French President Emmanuel Macron since October last year, saying he tried to defend caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad as freedom of expression. 

Macron’s comments came after a young Muslim beheaded a French school teacher who had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in class.

The images had been republished by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to mark the opening of the trial over the deadly 2015 attack against the publication for the original caricatures. Islam prohibits the depictions of the its prophet Mohammad.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies