Pakistani Islamists’ anti-France sit-in ends peacefully

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Thousands of supporters of a radical Islamic scholar on Tuesday ended their sit-in in the Pakistani capital over the republishing in France of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, which they deem blasphemous.

The sit-in at the edge of Islamabad was disbanded after the protesters got assurances from the government that their demand for cutting diplomatic ties with France would be discussed in Parliament in three months.

An agreement was reached between government ministers and leaders of Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party shortly after midnight Monday, after which the protesters started dispersing.

The sit-in, headed by firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, started with a protest march on Sunday night from the nearby garrison city of Rawalpindi.

As the protesters neared the Faizabad intersection, which connects the capital, Islamabad, with Rawalpindi, they clashed with security forces. Police fired rounds of teargas in response to stones hurled by protesters. Several policemen and protesters were reportedly injured.

After the violence died down, the protesters staged a sit-in at the intersection, demanding the government recall Pakistan’s ambassador to France and expel the French ambassador from Islamabad.

The prophet caricatures have sparked protests in Asia and the Middle East, with calls for boycott of French products. They were also seen as the trigger for several attacks against French nationals and interests in recent weeks.

Tehreek-e-Labiak spokesman, Shafiq Amini, said the government had accepted the protesters’ demands and would put the decision on breaking off ties with France before Parliament. Authorities also agreed to release all arrested members of Tehreek-e-Labiak, Amini said.

The deal was signed by the minsters for interior and religious affairs, as well as the Islamabad commissioner. None of those officials were available for comments.

Tehreek-e-Labiak has a history of staging protests and sit-ins to press their demands. In November 2017, its followers staged a 21-day protest and sit-in after a reference to the sanctity of the Prophet Muhammad was removed from the text of a government form.

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