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Pakistan Beefs Up Security As Banned Islamist Group Resumes March On Capital

Supporters of the banned Islamist group Tehrik-e Labaik Pakistan gather in Muridke on October 24 as part of their march to Islamabad to demand the release of their leader and the expulsion of the French ambassador.

Paramilitary troops were deployed in the central Pakistani province of Punjab on October 29 to confront thousands of supporters of a banned Islamist party on a protest march toward the capital despite warnings from the government.

Followers of the Tehrik-e Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party have been protesting for days trying to force the government to release the party's jailed leader and expel the French ambassador.

Since October 22, several police officers and activists have been killed in clashes as protesters marched from the eastern city of Lahore with the aim of reaching Islamabad.

After spending several days on the Grand Trunk Road connecting Lahore to Islamabad, TLP protesters resumed their march to Islamabad on the morning of October 29, traveling in cars, buses, and on foot.

Late on the previous day, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed warned the party to call off the march or face "consequences."

Security forces cordoned off major roads and dug trenches in some places to try to prevent the crowd from reaching the capital.

The federal government has also deployed Ranger paramilitary forces for a period of 60 days to maintain law and order.

TLP leader Saad Rizvi was arrested in April amid violent demonstrations against France linked to the publication of political cartoons depicting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. The radical Islamist group is demanding the French ambassador be expelled for committing blasphemy, something the government refuses to do.

The TLP, which gained prominence in 2017, has a history of staging violent protests to pressure the government to accept its demands.

In Pakistan’s 2018 elections, the party campaigned on the single issue of defending the country’s blasphemy law. Those laws call for death penalty sentences against anyone who insults Islam.