TLP clears GT Road, continues Wazirabad sit-in until leader’s release

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: The activists and workers of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party called off Monday the long march on Islamabad but continued their sit-in on the outskirts of Wazirabad city for a fourth straight day, demanding the immediate release of their detained chief, Saad Hussain Rizvi.

The development came a day after the government and the proscribed radical party reached an agreement to end the 10-day long — and at times deadly violent — rally calling for the closure of the French embassy and the release of Rizvi who was arrested in April on charges of inciting violence.

However, neither Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi nor cleric Mufti Muneeb ur-Rehman, who took part in the talks, gave any details of the agreement.

Following the deal, the protestors vacated GT Road and Allah Wala Chowk. However, they pitched tents at a nearby ground and said they would stage a sit-in until Rizvi is released.

“We have called off our march to Islamabad after reaching an agreement with the government,” Sajjad Saifi, a spokesman for the TLP, told AFP.

“Our supporters have moved to the nearby park and until 50 percent of terms are fulfilled we will stay here,” he added.

Meanwhile, roads leading to the inner city were opened. However, traffic was not restored at the Chenab Toll Plaza where police and Rangers were still deployed and roads leading to Gujrat and Sialkot also remained blocked.

Security officials said that the ditches dug up along GT Road to dissuade the protesters from marching to Islamabad will be filled up once they receive orders from higher-ups.

Traffic on GT Road remained suspended and cars and trucks remained stuck, while internet services also continued to be disrupted.

Thousands of supporters of the party marched from Lahore on October 22 toward Islamabad. They demanded the expulsion of France’s envoy to Pakistan over the publication of caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.) in France.

The protest march saw supporters clash with police at several points along the way. At least eight police officers and four demonstrators were killed.

The violence erupted a day after the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan said it would not accept the group’s demand to close the French Embassy and expel the ambassador.

Addressing the press conference Sunday, Rehman said a steering committee headed by Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan also comprising Punjab Law Minister Raja Basharat, the federal interior secretary and Punjab home secretary, besides TLP representatives Mufti Ghulam Ghous Baghdadi and Engineer Hafeez Ullah Alvi would oversee the implementation of the agreement.

Today, the committee met in Lahore to oversee the implementation of the agreement.

Later, taking to Twitter, Khan said that GT Road had been cleared after the protesters moved to an open ground away from traffic.

“I appreciate the TLP leadership for honouring their commitment and the government is already implementing its side of the agreement since last night,” he said.

Rizvi’s party started demanding the expulsion of the French envoy in October 2020 after France President Emmanuel Macron defended blasphemous caricatures as freedom of expression.

Macron’s comments came after a young man beheaded a French school teacher who had shown the caricatures in class. The images were republished by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to mark the opening of the trial over the deadly 2015 attack against the publication for the original caricatures.

The party gained prominence in the 2018 general elections, campaigning on the single issue of defending the blasphemy law, which calls for the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam or the prophet.

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