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Pakistani protesters call for French ambassador to be expelled from country

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Supporters of Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan, a religious political party, block a main highway during an anti-France rally in Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday, Nov. 16, 2020.
Supporters of Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan, a religious political party, block a main highway during an anti-France rally in Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday, Nov. 16, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Anjum Naveed
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Thousands of supporters of a radical Islamist party in Pakistan continued to protest over depictions of the Prophet Muhammad in France that they deem blasphemous.

They were angered by remarks made by French President Emmanuel Macron in the wake of the murder of French teacher Samuel Paty.

Macron defended the freedom of expression to produce the cartoons and attacked "Islamist separatism".

The protesters in Pakistan — supporters of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party — called for the expulsion of the French ambassador in Islamabad. They also want to cut diplomatic relations with France and withdraw their ambassador from the country.

Muhammad Latif, a protester at the event in Islamabad, said: "We love our prophet, we will give our life for the respect and honour of Prophet Muhammad, we will give our life but can't accept the French ambassador's presence here."

The sit-in, which has continued at an important intersection, started unplanned at the end of a protest march from Rawalpindi led by TLP chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi, despite resistance by police on Sunday night.

TLP supporters defied the security arrangements of police and the administration and clashed with security forces at different points on the way to the Faizabad intersection.

Tehreek-e-Labaik claimed on Sunday that many of its supporters were injured by police during overnight clashes in Rawalpindi.

The government has said it wants the protesters to peacefully disperse and authorities are in communication with Rizvi to end the sit-in along with the other clerics in attendance.

The TLP has a history of staging such protests and sit-ins to press their demands.

The rally has also caused inconvenience to commuters as authorities suspended mobile phone services in the area and the only bus service linking Rawalpindi with Islamabad.

The prophet caricatures are deemed offensive by many Muslims and have sparked protests in Asia and the Middle East, with calls for a boycott of French products. They were also seen as the trigger for several attacks against French nationals and interests in recent weeks.