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Officials say violence at anti-France Islamist rally in eastern Pakistan left at least one policeman and two dead among protesters

LAHORE, Pakistan – Violence at an anti-France Islamist rally in eastern Pakistan on Wednesday left at least one police officer and two protesters dead, officials said.

Violence erupted a day after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government said it would not accept the Islamists’ demand to close the French embassy and expel the French envoy.

Khan’s decision infuriated supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party, who over the weekend suspended their march to Islamabad to give the government three days to consider their demands.

Sajid Saifi, spokesman for Saad Rizvi, the TLP leader, claimed that their two supporters died when police opened fire on the rally in Sadhuke, a town in Punjab province. Police declined to comment on the complaint.

Police spokesman Rana Arif, however, said a policeman was killed in clashes with protesters.

Rally fans have also called for Rizvi’s release from prison. He was arrested last year in previous protests against France over the cartoons.

Rizvi’s party began demanding the French envoy’s expulsion in October 2020 when French President Emmanuel Macron attempted to defend the Prophet Muhammad cartoons as free speech. Macron’s comments came after a young Muslim beheaded a French school teacher who had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in class. The footage was reposted by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to mark the opening of the trial into the 2015 deadly attack on the publication of the original cartoons.

This has enraged many Muslims who think these representations are blasphemous.

Since then, Rizvi’s party has threatened a march to Islamabad, which it launched last week amid clashes that have left at least five dead, including two police officers, in the city of Lahore.

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Associated Press writer Asim Tanveer contributed to this story from Multan, Pakistan.

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