Asia & Pacific

Pakistan’s Parliament to Determine Future of French Envoy as Violent Protests Push for His Expulsion

Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, a political party, has run an anti-France campaign for several months now, since French President Emmanuel Macron defended the right of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to republish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, which is seen as blasphemous by many Muslims.

Pakistan’s parliament is set to decide the fate of the French ambassador in the country after a radical Islamist party threatened more protests if the envoy is not expelled.

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed announced in a video statement on Tuesday that a resolution on the diplomat would be presented to the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, which is set to be convened on Thursday. 

Ahmed said that Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a recently-banned Islamist political party, has promised to call off its national sit-in protests if the French diplomat is sent packing.

The anti-French campaign turned bloody last week following the arrest of the TLP leader following his call for a march on the capital city Islamabad to demand that the French diplomat be expelled.

The Pakistani government’s submission to the TLP’s demands is being interpreted as an attempt to resolve the crisis, which turned serious after the violence that left six Lahore Police officers dead. As many as 11 police officers were taken hostage by supporters of TLP and kept for several hours at a TLP mosque before being released.

Hundreds of party supporters of TLP are still at the mosque, as per reports, with the party claiming that several supporters had died in the clashes last week. 

Last week, the French embassy recommended that French citizens leave Pakistan amid reports that France was recalling all non-essential staff and their families.

Following the violent clashes last week, the Government of Pakistan banned the TLP and labelled it a terrorist organisation.

A large number of protesters were detained, but the government will not take action against them, said Interior Minister Ahmed, adding that the cases already registered against supporters of the TLP will also be dropped.

On Monday, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan called upon TLP to end the violence over the demand to expel the French envoy, saying it’s “harming the nation”.

In a national address on television, Khan said, “This violence does not make any difference to France. If we keep protesting our whole lives we would only be damaging our own country and it will not impact the West.”

However, the TLP enjoys the support of mainstream religious groups in Karachi and Lahore, said local media. On Monday, the TLP received a favourable response to its nationwide strike, as traders kept their markets closed. Transport services were also disrupted by protesters.

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