Many deaths have been reported in Pakistan amid continuing clashes between security forces and an Islamic group which is demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador.
The protests by the TLP group erupted around a week ago after the arrest of its leader Saad Rizvi.
TLP has demanded that the French ambassador be expelled following the publication of blasphemous cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in France.
Riots have broken out across the country with protestors and security forces trading accusations of violence and brutality.
According to media reports, at least four people have been killed, hundreds injured and thousands arrested in the days since Rizvi’s arrest. Numerous deaths among protestors have also been reported as well as the abduction of several policemen.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has since refused to expel the French ambassador, much to the anger of TLP leaders and supporters. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets of cities across the country last week in protests led by TLP that turned violent, with two policemen killed and more than 500 people injured.
In response, the government arrested hundreds of TLP workers, including the group’s leader, Saad Rizvi, and on Thursday banned the group as a “terrorist” organisation.
On Friday, the government shut down social media platforms for several hours after the group threatened take to the streets in their thousands. Media coverage of TLP has also been banned by the government.
Violence continued on Sunday when TLP members stormed a police station in Lahore, throwing petrol bombs and kidnapping and “brutally torturing” a deputy superintendent of police and injuring 11 officers, according to a statement by a police spokesperson.
On the other hand, Shafiq Ameeni, a spokesman for TLP, posted a video clip on social media saying that police had moved in on the party’s supporters at the group’s offices in Lahore and that several of the group’s supporters had been killed and others wounded in the violence.
TLP, which was formed in 2016, demands death for blasphemers and implementation of Islamic sharia laws.
In recent years it has steadily grown in popularity and has emerged as the third largest political party in terms of votes in Pakistan’s most populated province, Punjab, in the last election.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Twitter: “Let me make clear to people here & abroad: Our govt only took action against TLP under our anti-terrorist law when they challenged the writ of the state and used street violence & attacking the public & law enforcers. No one can be above the law and the Constitution.”
He added: “My message to extremists abroad who indulge in Islamophobia & racist slurs to hurt & cause pain to 1.3 bn Muslims across the globe: We Muslims have the greatest love & respect for our Prophet PBUH who lives in our hearts. We cannot tolerate any such disrespect & abuse…
“Those in the West, incl extreme right politicians, who deliberately indulge in such abuse & hate under guise of freedom of speech clearly lack moral sense & courage to apologise to the 1.3 bn Muslims for causing this hurt. We demand an apology from these extremists.
“I also call on Western govts who have outlawed any negative comment on the holocaust to use the same standards to penalise those deliberately spreading their message of hate against Muslims by abusing our Prophet PBUH.”
Meanwhile, TLP leader Razvi has asked for the protests to cease: “I, Hafiz Saad Rizvi, son of (late) Khadim Hussain Rizvi, with complete clarity of mind, and without any force, appeal to all the central leadership and workers of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik [TLP] that in the interest of the nation and the public good, please do not take any illegal steps.”
For its part, the French government has encouraged French citizens living in Pakistan to leave the country.
“Due to the serious threats to French interests in Pakistan, French nationals and French companies are advised to temporarily leave the country,” the French embassy said in an email to citizens. “The departures will be carried out by existing commercial airlines.”