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Pakistani Islamists End Protest Against France After Government Promise

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Lawyers display placards as they march along a street during an anti-France demonstration near the French Embassy in Islamabad on November 12.

ISLAMABAD -- An Islamist group on November 17 ended the blockade of an entrance into Pakistan's capital after the government promised to discuss the expulsion of the French ambassador.

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

Thousands of activists from Tehrik-e Labaik Pakistan (TLP) clashed with police and captured a major intersection into Islamabad on November 15, blocking access into the city.

On the same day, up to 5,000 protesters attempted to reach Islamabad from the nearby city of Rawalpindi, but authorities blocked their path with shipping containers.

A radical cleric leading the protest called on the government to expel France’s ambassador to Pakistan and announce an official boycott of French products.

The interior and religious affairs minister held talks with protest leaders late on November 16 and assured them that parliament would discuss the French ambassador's expulsion.

French President Emmanuel Macron pays his respects by the coffin of slain teacher Samuel Paty during a national memorial event in Paris on Ocober 21.
French President Emmanuel Macron pays his respects by the coffin of slain teacher Samuel Paty during a national memorial event in Paris on Ocober 21.

The government also promised to boycott French products, though it wasn't clear if imports would be banned.

"We have dispersed after all demands were met," the group's spokesman, Qari Zubair, said.

There was no official confirmation of the agreement, but the Interior Ministry issued a notification regarding the immediate release of all those arrested during the past two days in different parts of eastern Punjab Province.

Macron's comments came after a schoolteacher in France was beheaded 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 last month.

Any depiction of Muhammad is forbidden in Islam and is deemed offensive by Muslims.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had said “the rising tides of Islamophobia” in Europe and the ridicule of the Prophet Muhammad breed extremism among Muslim youth.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and dpa
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