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Pakistan to ban far-right religious party over deadly protests

14-04-2021

By SJA Jafri + Bureau Report

ISLAMABAD/ LAHORE/ KARACHI: Pakistan’s government will move to ban the far-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party, which has held days of violent countrywide protests resulting in the deaths of at least two police officers, the country’s interior minister says.

Protests by the TLP continued in pockets across the country on Wednesday, with Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed confirming that at least two policemen had been killed and more than 340 wounded by demonstrators in the past 48 hours.

“Today we have decided to ban TLP, and this file is going to cabinet for the approval from today,” said Rasheed at a news conference in the capital, Islamabad.

In a later tweet, he said the ban would be issued under Pakistani anti-terrorism legislation.

Rasheed said protesters had abducted policemen in several areas during the demonstrations, but that all law enforcement personnel had now been recovered.

The TLP, a religious group founded by firebrand Muslim leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi, has made the issue of perceived “blasphemy” its rallying cry, and has been agitating since November for the expulsion of the French ambassador and a ban on all French goods over remarks by French President Emmanuel Macron last year.

It called off a big sit-in protest that had blocked a main highway into the capital Islamabad in November after reaching an agreement with the government on consideration of its demands.

Arrest of TLP chief

In February, it threatened further demonstrations if the government did not comply with its demands, but government negotiators were able to secure an extension in the deadline for action.

On Monday, however, before the new April 20 deadline, police arrested TLP chief Saad Rizvi, son of party founder Khadim Hussain Rizvi who died of natural causes shortly after the November protests.

The arrest sparked days of unrest, with thousands of TLP supporters launching protests and blocking roads and highways across the country. Video footage from protests in Karachi, Lahore and elsewhere showed violent clashes between police and protesters.

Interior Minister Rasheed accused TLP leaders of negotiating with the government in bad faith over a planned parliamentary resolution on the issue of blasphemy.

“Until the last moment our aim was that a draft resolution could be prepared to present in the assembly with their agreement”, “but all of our efforts failed and one of the main reasons for (this) was that they wanted to come to Faizabad Chowk (to hold a protest) no matter what”, he said.

Rasheed said the TLP sought a resolution “that would mean (diplomats from) European countries … would all have to leave the country”.

“We want(ed) a draft that will raise the flag of the Prophet high … but what (the TLP) want(ed), that will create a perception in the world that we are an extremist country,” he said.

Police operations to clear the remaining protests in parts of Lahore and Faisalabad continued on Wednesday.

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