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Pakistan Releases Hundreds Of Protesters Detained During Violent Clashes With Police

Supporters of extremist political party Tehreek-e Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) chant slogans during a protest in Lahore (file photo)

Pakistani authorities say they have released hundreds of activists of a radical Islamist party who had been arrested during deadly clashes with police at the weekend.

The violence took place in the eastern of Lahore on October 23-24 when thousands of supporters of the banned Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan (TLP) party started a protest march with the goal of reaching Islamabad to pressure the government for the release of the party's leader and the expulsion of the French ambassador.

The TLP agreed to suspend its march after Pakistani authorities vowed to drop pending charges against its leader, Saad Rizvi, who was arrested in April amid violent demonstrations against France linked to the publication of political cartoons depicting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

"We have released 350 TLP workers up to now," Interior Minister Shaikh Rasheed Ahmad tweeted later on October 25.

The government said two police officers were killed in the clashes in Lahore, while the TLP claimed several of their activists were killed or wounded by live fire.

Rizvi was detained preemptively on a charge of inciting people to assemble unlawfully. It remains unclear when he would be released.

His party has a history of staging violent protests to pressure the government to accept its demands.

The TLP gained prominence in 2017 when it held a month-long protest sit-in outside Islamabad to force the government to amend the wordings of oathtaking for ministers. The protest ended following the resignation of the then law minister who was accused of changing the oath.

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.