Islamabad, Apr 15 (PTI) The French embassy here on Thursday advised all French nationals in Pakistan to temporarily leave the country after violent protests by a radical religious group that has now been banned by the government.
The Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) took to streets on Monday to launch violent protests to force the government to expel the French ambassador over blasphemous caricatures published last year.
Though no French citizen was reportedly targeted so far, the embassy urged all the French citizens and companies to leave Pakistan, apparently as a precautionary measure.
“Due to the serious threats to French interests in Pakistan, French nationals and French companies are advised to temporarily leave the country,” the embassy said in an email message to its citizens in Pakistan.
It said that the departures will be carried out by existing commercial airlines.
Interior minister Sheikh Rashid announced on Wednesday to ban the TLP and officials said that Prime Minister Imran Khan and his cabinet endorsed the summary by the interior ministry to outlaw the group.
Rashid, in response to a question at a press conference, said that “all French citizens are safe here” and there was no threat to them.
The trouble began after police arrested the TLP chief Saad Rizvi on Monday ahead of the April 20 deadline by the group to expel the French ambassador.
The issue of expulsion of the ambassador was linked to an agreement between the TLP and the government when the former in November last year postponed its protest against publication of blasphemous cartoons.
Initially the government had agreed that it would take action to fulfill the demand of expulsion of the French ambassador by February but later on the two sides agreed to set April 20 as the new deadline.
However, when Rizvi was arrested the TLP in coordinated protests blocked main roads in all major cities and the protests turned violent when police tried to remove them.
After efforts of more than two days, the government has succeeded to clear the roads and restore traffic but French embassy issued an advisory for its citizens.
Speaking to Dawn.com, the embassy's press attache Veronique Wagner, said “We can confirm that we have sent a precautionary note to all our citizens in Pakistan advising them to temporarily leave the country if possible due to the recent protests that have caused graver security threats and put its citizens at risk.” She added, however, that the embassy has not been closed but was working with limited staff. PTI SH RUP CPS