ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistani authorities freed nearly 669 supporters of an outlawed radical Islamist group, hours after it agreed to end a week of violent protests following talks with the government.
Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan’s leader, however, will remain behind bars with charges pending against him, the country’s interior minister said Wednesday. Saad Rizvi was arrested April 12 after threatening protests if the government did not expel France’s ambassador over the publication in France of controversial cartoons depicting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad for the first time acknowledged that eight supporters of the hard-line Islamist group were killed in violence that broke out April 12 after Rizvi’s arrest.
Ahmad said five police officers were “martyred” and 800 were injured in the clashes with Rizvi’s supporters. He made his remarks to foreign journalists along with Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry and Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari in the capital, Islamabad.
Rizvi faces a murder charge after police officers died in the clashes with his supporters. Ahmed said Rizvi could approach the courts to seek relief. He said Rizvi’s supporters ended an anti-France rally overnight in Lahore after talks with the government.
His comments came a day after a lawmaker from the ruling party kicked off a debate in the National Assembly, which will recommend whether the French ambassador should be expelled over the publication of the controversial cartoons.
The tensions originated last year when France’s president defended as a freedom of speech issue the publication of caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad by a satirical newspaper, drawing condemnation from across the Muslim world. Rizvi’s group since then has demanded French envoy’s expulsion.