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Pakistan: Parliament to vote on expelling French ambassador

April 20, 2021

The expulsion is a main demand of a radical Islamist party. Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan has rallied over the publication of cartoons depicting the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.

People protesting against France in Pakistan
Anti-France protests in Pakistan have gained momentum in recent weeksImage: AFP/Getty Images

Pakistan's government will ask parliament to vote on whether to send home the French ambassador, the interior minister said on Tuesday.

The move is widely seen as a bid to appease a radical Islamist party.

The Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) group has been protesting for months since French President Emmanuel Macron defended the right of the press to republish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Such depictions are considered blasphemous by some Muslims.

The TLP had agreed to "call off its protest sit-ins from the entire country" after long negotiations, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said.

Pakistan's ambassador to Germany, Dr. Mohammad Faisal, told DW in an interview, however, that the group was not determining government policy.

"Any decision that would be taken would be by the Parliament. Pakistan is a democracy, so the will of the people is reflected in a democracy in the Parliament," he said.

What has been happening in Pakistan?

Anti-France protests called by the TLP turned violent last week after arrest of the group's leader, Saad Rizvi, who had called on supporters to march on the capital and demand the French envoy be expelled.

Police in Lahore said at least six officers were killed. Eleven others were held hostage for several hours at a mosque. The TLP says several of its supporters also died in clashes.

Although the government banned the TLP on Wednesday, its campaign continues to find support even among mainstream religious groups. A call for a nationwide strike was widely heeded on Monday in Lahore and Karachi.

Blasphemy is a major political issue in Pakistan and allegations that Islam has been insulted can lead to protests and lynchings.

Empty uto rickshaws standing in a row in Karachi
Auto rickshaws in Karachi did not operate during a strike called by TLP on MondayImage: AFP/Getty Images

Why is France the target of protests?

The TLP has waged an anti-France campaign ever since Macron vehemently supported the right of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to republish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Macron made his remarks after a young Muslim killed a school teacher in France who had shown the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in class in lessons dealing with the subject of free speech.

Charlie Hebdo had republished the cartoons to mark the start of a trial over a deadly Islamist attack on its offices in 2015 for the original publication of the images.

The French Embassy last week advised French citizens to leave the country.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan warned in a televised address on Monday that expelling the French envoy could damage his country's trade ties with the European Union.

tj/rt (AFP, Reuters)