The French embassy in Pakistan on Thursday asked all its citizens and companies to temporarily leave the country due to “grave security threats” following several days of anti-France protests surrounding the detention of a radical Islamic leader.
Pakistan has witnessed protests by radical Islamists for the past several days over France supporting the publication of caricatures of Prophet Muhammad - considered blasphemous by many Muslims. In Pakistan, the violation of the blasphemy-related law can lead to a death sentence if found guilty.
An email sent by the embassy to French citizens in Pakistan said: “Due to the serious threats to French interests in Pakistan, French nationals and French companies are advised to temporarily leave the country. The departures will be carried out by existing commercial airlines.”
The e-mail came after the supporters of Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) started protests to force the Imran Khan-led government of Pakistan to expel the French ambassador and ban French products.
Due to the threat, extra security was deployed at the French embassy and shipping containers were placed as fortifications around its outer walls, reported AFP news agency.
Pakistan’s interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said: “Our police and rangers are capable of handling the situation. All the French citizens are safe here and there’s no threat to them.”
Saad Rizvi, who is the leader of the TLP, was detained by Pakistani authorities on Monday which led to thousands of his supporters taking to the streets in various cities of Pakistan. The TLP was banned by the Pakistani authorities on Wednesday.
Local news reports said three protesters and two police officers were killed while over 550 were injured in the anti-French protests.
On Friday, Pakistan blocked access to all social media such as Twitter and Facebook to control the tensions and clear the protests. Though the government released a handwritten note claimed to be written by Mr Rizvi asking supporters to stand down and disperse but the protesters are yet to back down.
Mr Rizvi became the TLP’s leader last year in November after the death of his father Khadim Hussein Rizvi.
Last year, after a young Muslim man beheaded a French school teacher for showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in class, French President Emmanuel Macron had vowed support for publishing the caricatures – a move that had sparked a backlash against France in several Islamic countries.
Additional reporting by agencies
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