• Interior minister announces action against those breaking law; necessary measures to reopen roads, entry/exit points also ordered

At least two protestors and a policeman were killed Tuesday in violent clashes between members of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and police in Lahore early Tuesday morning, less than a day after police arrested party chief Saad Rizvi.

According to reports, the policeman was killed in overnight clashes with the supporters of Rizvi, Lahore police chief Ghulam Mahmood Dogar said. Ten policemen were also wounded in these clashes in the Shahadra neighbourhood.

Two members of the TLP were also reported dead in Punjab.

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As the protests spilled over into other cities on Tuesday, the police arrested more than 100 supporters of the party.

The violence began late on Monday after police arrested Rizvi for threatening protests if the government did not expel the French ambassador, Marc Baréty, over blasphemous cartoons.

According to Dogar, the arrest was aimed at maintaining law and order. But Rizvi’s detention quickly sparked violent protests by Islamists in cities around the country. The protesters blocked highways and roads in several cities.

The deadly clashes come two days after Rizvi in a statement asked the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan to “honour” a commitment it made in February to his party to expel Baréty before April 20.

However, the government has said it only committed to discussing the matter in the National Assembly.

The reaction from Rizvi’s supporters against his arrest was so swift that police in Lahore could not clear a main highway and roads. Thousands of people were stranded in their vehicles.

Monday’s clashes initially erupted in Lahore. Rizvi’s supporters later clashed with police in Karachi and they continued rallying on the outskirts of Islamabad, disrupting traffic and inconveniencing residents.

INTERIOR MINISTER:

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed has ordered action against those who take law into their own hands, besides putting in place measures needed to reopen roads as well as entry and exits points of major cities across the country.

The Interior Ministry decided to take strict action against those creating law and order situations, and ordered to suspend cellular and internet services in affected areas.

The decisions were taken during a high-level meeting chaired by Rasheed.

It was attended by federal minister for religious affairs, chief commissioner, Islamabad and Punjab inspector generals (IGs) and chief secretaries concerned.

BACKGROUND:

Saad Rizvi emerged as the leader of the party in November after the sudden death of his father, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, due to the coronavirus. His supporters have previously held violent rallies to pressurise the government not to repeal the blasphemy laws.

Blasphemy is punishable with a mandatory death sentence, and the very mention of blasphemy is enough to inflame violent reactions.

The TLP wants the government to boycott French products and expel the French ambassador under an agreement signed by the government with Rizvi’s party in November.

TLP and other religious parties have denounced French President Emmanuel Macron since October last year, saying he tried to defend blasphemous caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as freedom of expression.

Macron’s comments came after a young Muslim beheaded a French school teacher who had shown caricatures in class.

The images had been republished by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, best known for vulgar irreverence, to mark the opening of the trial over the 2015 attack against the publication for the original caricatures.