Thousands of supporters of the banned far-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) have departed the eastern Pakistan city of Lahore, clashing for a second straight day with police who lobbed tear gas shells into the crowd, a party spokesman and witnesses said.
The group said on Saturday that five of its supporters have died in the clashes while at least two police officials were also killed.
“Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan lost two people Friday night and three more today to police firing,” the party tweeted on Saturday.
TLP members began their journey on Friday with the goal of reaching the capital, Islamabad, to pressure the government to release Saad Rizvi, the party’s head.
Rizvi was arrested last year amid demonstrations against France over the publication of caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
Police in Lahore would not comment on the claim, but on Friday night said two of its officers had died.
“The clashes are still ongoing,” Rana Arif, a spokesman for Lahore police, told the AFP news agency. “This is a defensive operation by police against the mob … We are only doing shelling to control the crowd.”
Pakistan had deployed police and paramilitary personnel to prevent the demonstrators from leaving Lahore. Authorities also suspended mobile phone service in parts of Lahore and blocked roads on Friday.
The situation worsened when police tried to stop the rally-goers, witnesses said.
The violence disrupted normal life in parts of Lahore, where residents were facing problems in reaching home because of the closure of some roads and continued clashes between police and TLP supporters.
Lahore is located about 350km (210 miles) from Islamabad, and most of the rally-goers are walking, although they had arranged buses and cars to reach the capital in a convoy.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, who was in Dubai to watch Pakistan compete in cricket’s T20 World Cup, was ordered by Prime Minister Imran Khan to return and monitor the situation.