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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Explained: Why France has asked its citizens to leave Pakistan

Strong anti-French sentiments have been simmering in Pakistan for months ever since October last year.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: April 22, 2021 9:14:58 am
Supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) Islamist political party throwback tear gas canisters fired by police during a protest against the arrest of their leader in Lahore, Pakistan April 13, 2021. (Reuters)

The French embassy in Pakistan on Thursday issued an advisory to its nationals asking them to temporarily leave the country following violent anti-France protests by a radical religious group, The Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP). Even though there are no reports of protesters targeting French citizens so far, the Embassy said that the move is “precautionary”.

The embassy, in an email to its citizens, said, “Due to the serious threats to French interests in Pakistan, French nationals and French companies are advised to temporarily leave the country.”

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Speaking to Dawn.com, the embassy’s press attache Veronique Wagner, however, said that the embassy has not been closed but is working with limited staff. France also said that all departures will be carried out by existing commercial airlines.

What is the situation in Pakistan?

Strong anti-French sentiments have been simmering in Pakistan for months ever since French President Emmanuel Macron in October last year defended the publication of caricatures of Prophet Muhammad and pledged to fight “Islamist separatism”.

Earlier this week, TLP supporters took to the streets to launch a violent protest with an aim to force the Imran Khan-led government to expel the French ambassador and ban French products in the country.

A banner with the portraits of Khadim Hussein Rizvi, top, and Saad Rizvi, leaders of Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan, a radical Islamist political party, hang on a bridge while their supporters block a road during a sit-in protest against the arrest of Rizvi, the head of their party, in Lahore, Pakistan, Wednesday, April 14, 2021. (AP)

However, Khan’s government retaliated by detaining TLP leader Saad Rizvi and on Wednesday announced a ban on his party.

According to the Associated Press, Rizvi’s arrest further intensified the protest and his supporters disrupted traffic by staging sit-ins on highways and later blocked roads in major cities including Karachi and Rawalpindi.

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The protesters also staged in protest in the capital city of Islamabad and blocked key roads for days. This led to police launching a nationwide crackdown triggering clashes that killed 5 people including two policemen. Over 300 people are reported injured.

Supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) Islamist political party carry sticks as they block a road during a protest against the arrest of their leader, in Peshawar, Pakistan April 13, 2021. (Reuters)

The Pakistan government maintains that Rizvi’s demand could not be met as any action on the French ambassador or French products could “harm Pakistan’s interests”.

Why TLP is protesting

This is not the first time that the TLP is protesting in Pakistan. In November last year, the party led similar violent protests across Pakistan which brought the government on its knees. The protest was then led by Saad’s father, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, an Islamist cleric, who passed away on November 20.

According to Dawn, TLP at the time ended its protest after an agreement was reached with the government that promised to decide the matter in three months. As that deadline came near in February 2021, the government had “expressed its inability to implement the agreement”. The TLP had agreed to delay its protest by two and a half months and issued a new deadline of April 20.

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