Protests erupted in major Pakistani cities after authorities arrested the leader of a radical Islamist party who has spearheaded anti-French rallies in the South Asian nation.
Police said Saad Rizvi, the head of the Tehrik-e Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party, was arrested in the eastern city of Lahore on April 12 to “maintain law and order.”
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.
Rizvi's arrest swiftly attracted condemnation from his supporters who gathered near the party's main office in Lahore for a protest.
Clashes soon erupted between Rizvi's supporters and police, who used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the crowd.
TLP supporters also rallied on the outskirts of the capital Islamabad and protesters also blocked some roads in the southern port city of Karachi.
The protests have raised fears of violence amid a surge in cases of coronavirus in Pakistan.
In November 2020, 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 defended the right to publish cartoons, including those deemed offensive by some Muslims, in October 2020.
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.
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 ridicule of Prophet Muhammad bred extremism among Muslim youths.