The French embassy in Pakistan on Thursday advised all of its nationals and companies to temporarily leave the country after anti-France violence erupted over the arrest of a radical leader.
Saad Rizvi was arrested on Monday for threatening the government with mass protests if it did not expel French envoy Marc Barety over the publication of depictions of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, says the AP.
Interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad said Rizvi’s demand could not be accepted as the expulsion of the French ambassador and ban on French products could harm the country’s national interest.
French foreign ministry spokesman Agnes Von Der Muhll said about 500 French nationals live in Pakistan and they will be able to leave on commercial flights.
Ahmad said French citizens living in Pakistan were safe, and security has been provided for them.
At a news conference on Wednesday, he said the police operation against Rizvi supporters was launched when they refused to end a protest sit-in peacefully.
He said a government order was being formally issued to outlaw Rizvi’s party so that it never creates such a situation in the future.
Rizvi’s arrest sparked violent protests by his followers, who disrupted traffic by staging sit-ins on highways and later blocked roads in major cities, including the southern port city of Karachi and the garrison city of Rawalpindi.
Supporters also staged a sit-in in the capital, Islamabad, and blocked a key road for three days.
Police launched a nationwide crackdown, triggering clashes that killed two policemen and wounded 580 others. Three demonstrators were also killed.
On Wednesday, thousands of Rizvi’s followers were still rallying in Lahore, the capital of eastern Punjab province where they have a strong presence.
According to Ahmed, any of Rizvi’s supporters still rallying will be sternly dealt with by security forces.
Rizvi emerged as the leader of the Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party in November after the sudden death of his father, Khadim Hussein Rizvi.
His Tehreek-e-Labiak and other Islamist parties have continually denounced French President Emmanuel Macron since October last year, saying he tried to defend drawings of the Prophet Muhammad as freedom of expression.
Macron’s comments came after a young Muslim beheaded a French schoolteacher who had shown cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in class.
The images had been republished by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to mark the opening of the trial over the deadly 2015 attack against the publication for the original caricatures.
That enraged many Muslims in Pakistan and elsewhere who believe those depictions were blasphemous.