Pakistan: release of police officers taken hostage by anti-France protesters

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Lahore | Eleven Pakistani police officers held hostage by anti-France protesters from a radical Islamist party were released after negotiations, the Interior Ministry said on Monday.

The police were kidnapped and taken to the Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) mosque in Lahore on Sunday during violent protests.

A video posted online Sunday, the authenticity of which was confirmed to AFP by the police, showed injured police officers, some bleeding and bruised, bandaged around their heads.

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the police were released early Monday after “negotiations” with the Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) party, officially banned since last week by the government which l classified as a terrorist organization.

The officers were held in a mosque belonging to the TLP, in which supporters of this movement gathered. She was surrounded by the police.

“The first negotiations have started with the TLP, they have been successful,” Rashid said in a video on Twitter. “They released the 11 police officers who had been taken hostage,” he added, adding that a second round of negotiations will take place later Monday, without knowing their purpose.

The Islamists had set April 20 as the deadline for the expulsion of the French ambassador.

Anti-France protests took place in several cities across the country, leading to the deaths of six police officers and leading the French embassy to call on its nationals to temporarily leave the country.

The party has been at the origin of an anti-France campaign for months since President Emmanuel Macron defended the right to cartoon in the name of freedom of expression. The French leader spoke during the tribute to a teacher killed on October 16 after showing satirical cartoons to his class, in the wake of the republication of representations of the Prophet Muhammad by the weekly Charlie Hebdo.

Second round of negotiations

Last week, the French Embassy in Pakistan recommended that its nationals temporarily leave Pakistan, a call that appears to have been largely ignored.

“TLP supporters entered the mosque and the police also withdrew,” Rashid said. “Hopefully the other issues will be settled in the second round of negotiations.”

Islamists have been protesting since last week against the detention of their leader, who was arrested for asking for the expulsion of the French ambassador.

TLP leaders say several of its supporters were killed in Sunday’s clashes. “We will not bury them until the French ambassador is fired,” Allama Muhammad Shafiq Amini, a TLP leader, said in a video statement.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government last week banned the TLP, calling it a terrorist organization.

Yet on Saturday he hinted that the party was not banned for its ideology but rather for its methods.

“Let me be clear with people here and elsewhere: our government only took action against the TLP, under our anti-terrorism law, when it challenged state authority, resorted to violence in the streets and attacked the population and the police, ”he tweeted.