France is advising its citizens and companies to temporarily leave Pakistan following violent anti-French rallies in the South Asian nation.
Anti-French sentiment has been simmering for months there since the French government expressed support for a magazine's right to republish cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad -- deemed blasphemous by many Muslims.
Thousands of Pakistani Islamists clashed with police earlier this week in protest against the arrest of their leader who had called for the expulsion of the French ambassador.
"Due to the serious threats to French interests in Pakistan, French nationals and French companies are advised to temporarily leave the country," the embassy said in an e-mail sent to French residents in Pakistan on April 15.
"The departures will be carried out by existing commercial airlines," the e-mail read.
"Our police and rangers are capable of handling the situation," Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told a press conference. "All the French citizens are safe here and there's no threat to them."
AFP reported that extra security personnel were deployed to the French Embassy and shipping containers were placed as fortifications around its outer wall. The diplomatic mission is located inside a guarded diplomatic enclave closed to the public.
The previous day, the Pakistani government announced it would ban the radical Islamist party that has spearheaded the violent anti-French rallies, Tehrik-e Labaik Pakistan (TLP), under the country's antiterrorism laws.
TLP leader Saad Rizvi was detained in the eastern city of Lahore on April 12 to “maintain law and order,” bringing crowds of his supporters to the streets in cities across Pakistan. At least five people, including two police officers, were killed in clashes in Islamabad on April 13.
Police have said Rizvi had been charged under anti-terrorism laws.
In November, thousands of TLP supporters clashed with police and captured a major intersection leading into Islamabad, blocking access into the capital.
Anti-France protests erupted in several Muslim countries after French President Emmanuel Macron defended the right to publish cartoons, including those deemed offensive by some Muslims.
Macron's comments came after a French schoolteacher was killed by an Islamist for showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, originally published in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, during a lesson on freedom of expression in September 2020.