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Pakistan, Islamist Group Strike Deal To End Protest March

Thousands of supporters of the banned Tehrik-e Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party had been marching from Lahore on October 22 toward the capital, Islamabad. (file photo)

Pakistan's government and the outlawed radical Islamist party Tehrik-e Labaik Pakistan (TLP) have reached an agreement to end a 10-day -- and at times deadly violent -- march calling for the closure of France's embassy and the release of the party's leader.

Neither Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi nor religious leader Mufti Muneebur Rehman, who took part in the talks, gave any details of the agreement at a news conference in the capital, Islamabad, on October 31.

“Details and positive results of the agreement will come before the nation in a week or so,” said Rehman, who said he had the endorsement of TLP party leader Saad Rizvi.

Thousands of supporters of the banned Tehrik-e Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party marched from Lahore on October 22 toward Islamabad. They demanded the expulsion of France’s envoy to Pakistan linked to the publication in France of political cartoons depicting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. ​

The protest march saw supporters clash with police at several points along the way. At least seven police officers and four demonstrators were killed.

It wasn’t immediately clear on October 31 when the party would end its march. Thousands of supporters halted their march in Wazirabad, about 185 kilometers from the capital on October 29 after roads and bridges ahead of them were blocked. Paramilitary rangers were deployed to stop the protesters from continuing toward the capital.

Sajid Saifi, a TLP spokesman, said supporters were ready to “pack up” but were awaiting instructions from the party's leadership. He said he hoped party leader Saad Rizvi and all the supporters arrested in recent days would be released soon.​

​Besides demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador, the TLP was also pressing for the release of its leader, Rizvi, who was arrested last year for inciting supporters to stage an anti-France protest.

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.

With reporting by AP and Reuters
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