ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s interior minister on Wednesday recommended a ban on an Islamist political party whose supporters held violent rallies this week to condemn the arrest of their leader that left at least five people dead.
Saad Rizvi, an Islamist cleric, had threatened protests if authorities did not expel the French ambassador over depictions of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
The announcement by Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad came hours after Pakistani security forces — swinging batons and firing tear gas — moved in to clear sit-ins by the protesting Islamists in the capital Islamabad and elsewhere.
The crackdown came after five people, including two police officers, were killed Tuesday in the clashes.
Police and paramilitary rangers quickly cleared most of the sit-ins staged by the protesters in Islamabad and roads were reopened. Ahmed asked protesters who were still blocking roads and rallying in the eastern city of Lahore to peacefully disperse.
The announcement of a proposed ban on the Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party came two days after supporters first began blocking highways and key roads in various parts of the country to denounce Monday’s arrest of their leader.
Rizvi was taken into custody after he threatened the government with mass protests if it did not expel French envoy Marc Baréty before April 20 over the publication in France of depictions of Islam’s Prophet.
Rizvi had claimed the government committed to expelling the French diplomat in an agreement. However, the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan insisted it only committed to discussing the matter in Parliament.
Ahmad said police and paramilitary rangers launched a crackdown against demonstrators before dawn Wednesday and quickly cleared rallies in the capital and other cities, including the garrison city of Rawalpindi.
He said two policemen were killed and 340 police were wounded in the clashes with Islamists.
Ahmad did not say how many demonstrators died, but police earlier said at least three Islamists were killed in clashes. He said he hoped the situation would soon be under control in Lahore, where Islamists were still rallying and blocking some roads.
Rizvi emerged as the leader of the Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party in November after the sudden death of his father, Khadim Hussein Rizvi. His party wants the government to boycott French products and expel the French ambassador under an agreement signed by the government with Rizvi’s party in February.
Tehreek-e-Labiak and other Islamist parties have denounced French President Emmanuel Macron since October last year when they say he tried to defend caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad 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. That enraged many Muslims in Pakistan and elsewhere who believe those depictions were blasphemous.
Dogar reported from Lahore, Pakistan.