ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: Protesters have thronged a major highway in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, and other streets, demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador and end of diplomatic ties with the European country over Islamophobia.
Protesters from the far-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) blocked the city’s main Faizabad interchange on Monday, a day after violent clashes with the police.
Riot police were deployed to guard government buildings across the capital, with authorities using shipping containers to block important roads around the sit-in site.
Mobile phone services remained blocked for a second straight day across most of the city, as authorities attempted to disrupt the protesters’ ability to organise. Most Pakistani news media did not cover the protest.
The TLP, led by religious leader Khadim Husain Rizvi, has often agitated against the Pakistani government on issues around blasphemy, a sensitive topic in the South Asian country, where the crime carries a potential death sentence.
In October, following the beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty by an 18-year-old student for showing cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in his class, Macron hailed the teacher as a “quiet hero”.
“Samuel Paty was killed because Islamists want our future and because they know that with quiet heroes like him, they will never have it,” Macron had said.
Earlier, in September, Macron had defended the “right to blaspheme” under free speech rights, and pledged to fight what he termed “Islamic separatism” in France through administrative measures.
Macron’s remarks drew ire from several world leaders, including Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and calls for a boycott of French goods
Pakistan and France do not hold deep economic ties, and bilateral trade between the two countries amounted to just more than $778,000 last year, according to Pakistani central bank data.