Pakistan lifts ban on radical party behind anti-France protests

Pakistan has lifted a ban on a radical party that staged massive anti-France protests, after reaching a deal with the group that ended the latest round of deadly unrest.

In a notification published late Sunday, the government said the move was in the “national interest”, coming after seven police officers were killed in clashes during a rally that began last month. 

Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) was protesting the detention of its leader, arrested in April when the group was outlawed by authorities, and demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador.

Over the past several years, TLP has staged a series of such disruptive protests, mainly linked to the flash-point issue of blasphemy in Muslim-majority Pakistan. 

“The federal government is pleased to remove the name of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan as proscribed organisation,” the government said in a statement. 

It said the decision was made after assurances from the group — which has three members in parliament — that it would abide by the law. 

Hundreds of detained TLP supporters were also released from detention earlier this month as part of the deal.

“This label has been a source of major concern for us as all our activists were being booked under the anti-terrorism act. We were told last night about the decision,” TLP spokesman Sajjad Saifi told AFP by phone on Monday.

But TLP leader Saad Rizvi remains in detention. 

Saifi added that they expect Rizvi to be released this week. 

The party launched its anti-France campaign after Paris-based satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last year republished cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed — an act deemed blasphemous by many Muslims.

Protests in April led to the French embassy issuing a warning for all its citizens to leave the country.

The latest round of protests, which drew thousands to a march that began in the eastern city of Lahore, resulted in several Pakistani cities facing gridlock and suspended some train services.

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