Pakistan says it has lifted a ban on a far-right party behind violent anti-France protests last month that triggered clashes with police, resulting in six officers and four demonstrators’ death.
The development follows an agreement reached last week between the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan and Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) that the party would halt its march to Islamabad.
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The march was called to demand the closure of the French embassy in the Pakistani capital.
The Ministry of Interior lifted the ban late on Sunday, saying the move was in the “larger national interest” amid assurances the party would not indulge in violent activities in future.
The protest march on Islamabad, which started on October 22, was also meant to demand the release of the party’s leader, Saad Rizvi, who was arrested a year ago, as well as thousands of its members detained in a crackdown to foil the march from Lahore to Islamabad.
TLP was outlawed a year ago amid violent rallies over the publication of the caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad in France.
The party started demanding the expulsion of the French envoy in October 2020, when French President Emmanuel Macron tried to defend the caricatures as freedom of expression.
Macron’s comments came after a young Muslim beheaded a French school teacher who had shown caricatures of the Prophet in class.
The images were republished by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to mark the opening of the trial over the deadly 2015 attack against the publication of the original caricatures.
That enraged many Muslims who believe those depictions were blasphemous.
Pakistan’s move to lift the ban on TLP drew criticism on social media.
TLP supporters are yet to formally announce the end of their march and scores of demonstrators are still sitting along a highway in the city of Wazirabad.
Authorities last week said they freed more than 1,000 detained TLP supporters and that a process was under way to release Rizvi.
Rizvi’s party gained prominence in Pakistan’s 2018 elections, campaigning on the single issue of defending the country’s blasphemy law, which calls for the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam.
Pakistan’s military was to brief legislators later on Monday on the current security situation in the country.