Islamist sit-in outside Pakistani capital targets France

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ISLAMABAD (AP) — Thousands of supporters of a radical cleric's political party rallied on the outskirts of Islamabad on Monday demanding the Pakistani government cut diplomatic ties with France over the republishing of caricatures of Islam's Prophet Muhammad, which they deem blasphemous.

A sit-in Monday by supporters of Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan at an important intersection connecting the garrison city of Rawalpindi with the capital Islamabad started spontaneously. It followed the protest Sunday night organized by TLP chief Khadim Husain Rizvi. Protesters demanded the government recall Pakistan’s ambassador from France and expel the French ambassador in Islamabad.

The prophet caricatures are deemed offensive by many Muslims and have sparked protests in Asia and the Middle East, with calls for boycott of French products. They were also seen as the trigger for several attacks against French nationals and interests in recent weeks.

Associated Press reporters at the scene saw protesters clash with security forces on the road leading to the Faizabad intersection. The rally attracted some 5,000 people and police lobbed tear gas cannisters. Several protesters and security people were injured.

Authorities suspended cellular service in the area and blocked roads leading to the intersection. Shipping containers were brought in to block the main Islamabad Highway and surrounding roads to keep protesters from entering the capital.

The TLP has a history of staging protests and sit-ins to press their demands. In November 2017 they staged a 21-day protest and sit-in after a reference to the sanctity of the Prophet was removed from a government form.