Violence in an Islamist rally against France on Wednesday in eastern Pakistan left at least four policemen and two protesters dead, said the government, which sent paramilitary troops to enforce order.
Thousands of supporters of a banned radical Islamist party gathered on a road in Sadhuke town during their march to Islamabad.
They demanded the expulsion of the French envoy to Pakistan due to the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in France.
On the eve, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government said it did not accept the Islamists’ claim to close the French embassy and expel the French envoy.
Khan’s decision angered supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party, who over the weekend called off their march to Islamabad to give the government three days to study their claims.
Usman Buzdar, the chief minister of Punjab province, said in a tweet that the violent clashes left four policemen dead and 253 injured. He warned that severe measures will be taken against those responsible for the violence.
Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed blamed the protesters for starting the shooting and said the government was sending paramilitary forces to Punjab for two months. He called on the protesters to desist from the protest and return to Lahore to avoid government action.
Sajid Saifi, a spokesman for Saad Rizvi, the leader of the TLP, said that two of his followers were killed when police opened fire in Sadhuke, a town in Punjab province. Police declined to comment on the complaint.
Police spokesman Rana Arif said an officer was killed during clashes with protesters. The protesters are also demanding the release of Rizvi, who was arrested last year during previous anti-French demonstrations in the wake of the cartoons.
Rizvi’s party began demanding the expulsion of the French diplomat in October 2020, when French President Emmanuel Macron tried to defend the cartoons as an act of freedom of expression.
A young Muslim in France beheaded a teacher who showed the cartoons in class.
The images were published by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo at the beginning of the trial for the deadly 2015 attack when the cartoons were first published.