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Pakistan To Ban Radical Islamist Party Behind Anti-French Rallies

A supporter of the Islamist Tehrik-e Labaik party hurls stones toward police during a protest against the arrest of their leader in Lahore, on April 13.
A supporter of the Islamist Tehrik-e Labaik party hurls stones toward police during a protest against the arrest of their leader in Lahore, on April 13.

The Pakistani government says it will ban a radical Islamist party that has spearheaded violent anti-French rallies in the South Asian nation.

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid said on April 14 that Tehrik-e Labaik Pakistan (TLP) will be banned under the country's anti-terrorism laws.

"We have decided to ban the TLP," Rashid told reporters in Islamabad. "We don't want to be known as an extremist nation at international level."

The announcement came hours after Pakistani security forces forcibly dispersed protesters who were staging sit-ins in the capital, Islamabad.

Five people, including two police officers, were killed in clashes on April 13.

Thousands of TLP supporters have clashed with police since April 12, demanding the release of their leader who was arrested after calling for the French ambassador to be expelled.

Religious Activists Clash With Police In Pakistan
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Saad Rizvi, the head of the TLP, was arrested in the eastern city of Lahore on April 12 to "maintain law and order." Police said on April 13 that he had been charged under anti-terrorism laws.

The TLP has demanded that the government expel the French ambassador over France's defense of the right to publish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, which is considered blasphemous under Islam.

In November, thousands of TLP supporters clashed with police and captured a major intersection leading into Islamabad, blocking access into the city.

The Islamist group ended the blockade after the government promised to discuss the expulsion of the French ambassador.

Anti-France protests erupted in several Muslim countries after French President Emmanuel Macron in October defended the right to publish cartoons, including those deemed offensive by some Muslims.

Macron's comments came after a school teacher was killed by an Islamist for showing caricatures of Prophet Muhammad, originally published in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, during a lesson on freedom of expression last month.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had said "the rising tides of Islamophobia" in Europe and ridicule of Prophet Muhammad bred extremism among Muslim youths.

With reporting by AP and Reuters
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