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Muhammad cartoons: Islamist group says Islamabad agrees to boycott France

An Islamist party has called off anti-France protests and claimed the Pakistani government agreed to sever diplomatic ties with Paris over Prophet Muhammad's cartoons. The government did not immediately confirm the move.

A hardline Sunni Islamist party said Friday it was ending its anti-France protests after reaching an agreement with the government. It claimed the authorities agreed to releases protesters and cut diplomatic ties with France.

The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party had launched protest rallies in Rawalpindi city in an attempt to reach the nearby Islamabad, the capital of the Islamic country.

Read more: Pakistan: Thousands urge cutting ties with France over defense of prophet cartoons

Islamist groups in Pakistan were enraged by France's Emmanuel Macron defending his country's freedom of speech laws in the wake of the killing of a teacher who had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad to his class.

The Islamist group demanded that Prime Minister Imran Khan's government impose an official boycott of French products and expel the French ambassador from the country.

Read more: France Muhammad cartoon row: What you need to know

Deal or no deal?

Shafiq Amini, a TLP spokesman, said Tuesday the government had accepted the protesters' demands. The deal was reportedly signed by the minsters for interior and religious affairs, as well as the Islamabad commissioner.

Watch video 01:08

Anti-Macron protests in Pakistan

But a senior government official told AFP news agency on condition of anonymity that the "government has no intention of cutting diplomatic ties with any country," adding that the situation had been "handled accordingly" to ensure the protesters left peacefully.

The French embassy has so far not commented on the TLP-government agreement.

Read more: Muhammad cartoon row: Anti-France protests erupt across Muslim world

Blasphemy — a matter of life and death

Blasphemy is a contentious issue in Pakistan, where anyone deemed to have insulted Islam or the Prophet Muhammad can face the death penalty under the country's blasphemy laws. Rights activists say the laws are often implemented in cases that have little to do with blasphemy and are used to settle petty disputes and personal vendettas. Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis — a minority Islamic sect — are often victimized as a result.

TLP supporters protesting in 2018

The blasphemy of Asia Bibi triggered TLP protests in Pakistan

In November 2018, the TLP called off nation-crippling protests after striking a deal with the government on the legal future of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy. TLP supporters had held three days of sit-ins and demonstrations after the Supreme Court of Pakistan overturned Bibi's blasphemy conviction, ending her eight years on death row.

shs/dj  (AFP, AP, Reuters)