Lahore: Violent clashes erupted between Pakistan’s security forces and Islamists here on Friday, leaving four people dead, including two policemen, and 15 others injured, police said.
The Islamists Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) workers – had launched a rally from Lahore to Islamabad demanding that the Pakistan government release their leader Saad Rizvi, who was arrested last year for demonstrations against France after a French magazine published caricatures of Prophet Muhammad, and expel the French ambassador.
Security forces tried to thwart the rally-goers from proceeding towards Islamabad by firing over 2,500 tear gas shells at the TLP workers, following which the protests turned violent.
Over 2,500 tear gas shells were fired at the TLP workers in a bid to stop them from proceeding to their destination (Islamabad),” a Punjab police official told PTI.
“Two policemen lost their lives in the clashes with TLP workers,” a police spokesman said.
The TLP shared the pictures of the dead bodies of its two workers who died in clashes with police.
“The condition of 15 injured is critical,” a police officer said.
On Friday evening, Lahore turned into a tense cauldron, after being virtually cut off from the rest of the country, with law enforcement agencies placing containers at all its entry and exit points.
Authorities had also suspended mobile phone service in parts of Lahore and blocked roads.
The TLP workers have been holding a sit-in outside its headquarters in Yateem Khana in Lahore since Wednesday protesting Rizvi’s arrest and pressing the government to implement an agreement with the outfit regarding the expulsion of the French ambassador.
A Punjab police officer said that more than 7,000 policemen were deployed against the TLP workers.
The violent clashes left dozens of TLP workers and policemen injured, some of them are in serious condition, he said and added the main clashes took place outside the TLP headquarters and MAO College on Multan Road.
“Since all entry and exit points of Lahore have been blocked by placing containers, the TLP workers will not be able to cross that hurdle,” the police official said and added police arrested a good number of TLP workers as well. By now in Punjab province alone we have arrested more than 1,500 TLP activists, he said.
Those arrested have been booked under terrorism, kidnapping, blocking roads, hooliganism and other charges.
TLP leader Pir Ajmal Qadri had earlier declared that a peaceful procession would begin after Friday prayers. If any hurdles are created, the party also has a Plan B to thwart any official attempts. The purpose of the move is respect for the Prophet.
In April, Rizvi was detained by the Punjab government under the maintenance of public order (MPO) following TLP’s protests.
They subsequently agreed to call off protests across the country on Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf government assurance that it would present a resolution on the expulsion of the French ambassador in the National Assembly.
However, the government had called the National Assembly session to debate the French envoy’s expulsion and before a vote could take place on the resolution, the Speaker announced the formation of a special committee to discuss the matter and asked the government and the opposition to engage with each other to develop consensus on the issue.
No meeting of this special committee has been held since April.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government in Punjab has formed a committee comprising provincial Law Minister Raja Basharat and Prosecution Minister Chaudhry Zaheeruddin for talks with the TLP.