Islamabad under partial seige over anti-France protest by extremists

Hundreds of protestors of an extremist religious group on Monday laid partial siege to the national capital to denounce the publication of blasphemous cartoons in a French magazine and force the government to expel the French ambassador.

Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) of controversial cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi organised the protest march on the Murree Road of the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Sunday.

Riot police had to resort to teargas shelling against the stone-pelting TLP protesters who successfully reached the Faizabad interchange connecting Rawalpindi and Islamabad, where they launched their sit-in.

Though Rizvi did not join them at the sit-in but his representatives were leading the protestors who refused to move away until the basic demand to send back the French envoy was fulfilled.

The TLP first came to limelight in 2017 when it protested against some changes in the oath of elected representatives and organised about a three-week long sit-in at Faizabad, paralyzing life in Islamabad.

The TLP lifted the siege when then Pakistan Muslim League(N) government led by Nawaz Sharif fired its law minister.

The then opposition leader Imran Khan had supported the TLP demand as he was trying to topple the PML-N government. However, now he faces a similar dilemma, showing that extremists are a threat to everyone, sources said

Like it has done in the past, the Islamabad administration reacted by sealing the Red Zone, having important offices, and blocked all roads leading to the diplomatic enclave, housing foreign missions.

So far none of the government representatives tried to broker a deal with the protestors.

Last night, police and protesters clashed for hours, leaving several people injured. Police claimed to have arrested about 200 protestors.

Mobile service remained suspended in Rawalpindi region and Islamabad while the internet was slow, making communication difficult, local print and electronic continued to ignore the protest.

Rizvi is considered a controversial cleric and was arrested for asking army troops to rebel against the army chief. He spent several months in jail before being released in May 2019.

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