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Pakistani Islamists free police hostages after anti-France protests

13 April 2021, Pakistan, Rawalpindi: Police arrests a protester during a protest by the Islamist far-right Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) group protest against the detention of group's chief Saad Hussain Rizvi. Photo: Ppi/PPI via ZUMA Wire/dpa
13 April 2021, Pakistan, Rawalpindi: Police arrests a protester during a protest by the Islamist far-right Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) group protest against the detention of group’s chief Saad Hussain Rizvi. Photo: Ppi/PPI via ZUMA Wire/dpa

A radical Islamist group in Pakistan seeking the expulsion of the French ambassador have released 11 police officers they took hostage during protests, a top official said on Monday.

Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), which supports the country’s controversial blasphemy laws, released the hostages after negotiations with the government overnight, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said.

Hundreds of TLP activists, armed with petrol bombs and batons, remained holed up inside a mosque compound that serves as headquarters for the group in the city of Lahore.

The TLP has been holding violent protests since late last year supporting the French ambassador’s expulsion in response to the publication in France of a cartoon depicting the prophet Mohammed.

Pakistan’s government said it would discuss the demand in November, but has since refused to expel the envoy.

Violent clashes erupted across Pakistan a week ago when police arrested the TLP’s chief to stop the group from marching on the capital Islamabad.

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The government on Wednesday banned the TLP under the country’s anti-terrorism laws, lumping them in with militant organizations including al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban.

Fresh protests erupted on Sunday when police backed by the paramilitary forces tried to uproot the last of the protest camps outside the group’s headquarters, Ahmed said.

Videos circulating on social media show injured officers with bandages around their heads in the group’s custody.

The TLP said three of its workers were killed in the Sunday clashes.

The group rose to prominence in 2017 for its support of anti-blasphemy laws that seek a death sentence for those found guilty of insulting Islam or Mohammed.

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