TLP calls off nationwide protests as NA debates French envoy expulsion

Govt to maintain ban on proscribed outfit, agrees to free activists rounded up under MPO, on terror charges


Rizwan Ghilzai April 20, 2021
A supporter of TLP hurls stones towards police during a protest in Lahore. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

ISLAMABAD:

The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) on Tuesday called off its violent protests after the federal government tabled a resolution in parliament to debate the French ambassador's expulsion.

However, the government decided against lifting the ban on the TLP it had imposed for the group staging violence across the country for almost a week.

Nor would it withdraw the cases registered against the banned outfit's activists for murdering policemen.

During a meeting of the PTI parliamentary party chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid and Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri briefed the participants about the understanding reached with the TLP.

They said the TLP had agreed to end its protest across the country after the government accepted its demand to table a resolution in the National Assembly on whether or not the French ambassador should be expelled from the country.

The government has also given the nod to release its chief, Saad Rizvi, whose arrest triggered the unrest, and other party activists and supporters detained under the Maintenance of Public Order and on terrorism charges.

The TLP spokesperson confirmed that Rizvi had been set free from custody but an official denied this development.

However, those booked for murder would have to approach the courts.

Also read: Govt under fire for mishandling TLP crisis

In a post-cabinet briefing, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the murderers of the four policemen killed in clashes with the TLP could not be forgiven.

“They [murderers] will have to go to courts,” he added.

The premier noted during the meeting that the nation was united on the issue of Namoos-e-Risalat.

“Even though the purpose behind the TLP's protest was right, the manner in which it chose to act was inappropriate,” he added.

The prime minister stressed the need for a global solution to the issue of blasphemy.

He also congratulated Rashid for achieving success in the talks and directed him to continue working for peace in the country.

Earlier, Rashid announced that the government had agreed “after long negotiations with the TLP” to put a resolution before parliament on whether or not it should expel the French ambassador.

All criminal cases registered against the TLP would also be withdrawn as a result of the agreement with the group, which in return would end its protests.

“The TLP will end its protests across the country including at Jamia Masjid Rehmatul-lil-Alamin [in Lahore],” the minister said.

“Cases registered against TLP supporters under the Fourth Schedule [of the anti-terrorism law] will also be dismissed and further rounds of talks will take place,” he added.

Later on Tuesday, a resolution calling for a debate on the envoy's expulsion was presented in a specially-convened session of the National Assembly.

NA Speaker Asad Qaiser presided over the session during which MNA Amjad Ali Khan presented the resolution.

It stated that blasphemous sketches were published by a French magazine, and then the French president Emmanuel Macron’s remarks hurt the sentiments of hundreds of millions of Muslims in the name of freedom of expression.

"The House condemns the publication of insulting sketches by the controversial French magazine Charlie Hebdo and Muslims around the world had also expressed outrage at the publication of the sketches," the resolution added.

Also read: Govt tables resolution in National Assembly on French ambassador expulsion

The resolution also asked for a debate over the issue of deporting the French ambassador and also proposed to provide spaces in different parts of the country for protests on religious issues.

It added that instead of blocking roads, specific places for protests should be identified.

“All Muslim countries should be consulted on the issue and all European countries in general and France, in particular, should be made aware of the seriousness of the issue,” the resolution added.

Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan also moved a motion to form a parliamentary committee on the issue. The house was then adjourned till Friday.

Opposition members protested, demanding details of the agreement with the TLP.

PPP Information Secretary Dr Nafisa Shah said the government had postponed the session for two days but then "suddenly" called it.

“Some [PPP] parliamentarians are not present in Islamabad. At this time, the decision has been taken that PPP will not take part in the session,” she added.

Speaking of the development, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto claimed in a tweet that the ruling PTI was trying to "hide behind the NA [National Assembly]" after 'mishandling' the situation".

"Agreement wasn’t brought to NA, Govt took action on streets, then banned, people killed, over 500 policemen injured, closed internet, PM didn’t make statement in NA, didn’t take NA into confidence at any stage," Bilawal stated.

"It's your mess PM, clean up or go home," the PPP chairman added.

Later, the TLP responded by releasing an audio statement of its spokesperson Shafiq Amini saying: "It is requested to end protests wherever they are happening across the country.”

The spokesperson added that the government had kept its end of the promise by tabling a bill on the expulsion of the French ambassador.

France has already advised its citizens to temporarily leave Pakistan. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, a political analyst, told Reuters the government wanted to take the matter of the French envoy's expulsion to the parliament, "so they can say they have consulted with them and whatever step they take has a consensus behind it".

The government's apparent acceptance of the militants' demands would be seen as a victory for the Islamists, said author and analyst Khaled Ahmed.

“The government's retreat from its stance and agreement indicate that none of the institutions can stand against them," he added.

(With input from agencies)

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