Pakistan’s interior minister has confirmed that 11 police officers who were taken hostage by Islamist radicals during violent anti-France demonstrations last weekend have been released but more talks are needed to resolve issues.
In a series of video messages published on Monday, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad said that the “first round of talks concluded in a successful manner,” adding that the 11 police officers taken hostage had been released. Ahmad said that there would be further talks with the now-banned Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) group in order to resolve matters concerning their demand that the state boycotts France over blasphemous cartoons and a crackdown on Islam.
Anti-blasphemy protests against France in Pakistan intensified over the weekend, having restarted last week following the arrest of the TLP’s leader, Saad Hussain Rizvi. The 11 police officers were captured by the radical Islamists at the weekend in violence which also saw three demonstrators killed. In the week of violence, more than 500 officers were wounded and four have been killed.
TLP, which was banned last Wednesday under the Anti-Terrorism Act, has made the issue of “blasphemy” its rallying cry. Since November, the group has called for the expulsion of the French ambassador and a ban on all French goods following President Emmanuel Macron’s refusal to condemn the showing of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed and their publication in the comic journal, Charlie Hebdo. Last week, France called on its citizens to leave Pakistan for their safety.
After a hiatus, protests were due to restart on April 20 unless the government had shown proper consideration to the group’s demands.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Imran Khan called on Western nations to prosecute hatred against Muslims with the “same standards” that it applies to Holocaust denial.
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