Pakistan frees radical party leader behind massive anti-French protests

Pakistan on Thursday released the leader of a radical religious party that has staged massive anti-French protests, following a lifting of a ban by the group earlier this month to end the latest round of deadly rioting.

Hundreds of supporters could be seen cheering and throwing flower petals when Saad Rizvi, leader of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), was taken to the party’s headquarters in Lahore.

His release was confirmed to AFP by his party’s representative and the Lahore police. The TLP broadcast the celebrations outside its headquarters on YouTube.

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Over the past several years, the TLP has staged a series of disruptive protests, largely linked to the flashpoint issue of blasphemy in Muslim-majority Pakistan.

Rizvi was arrested in April when the group was banned by authorities.

But that ban was lifted on Nov. 7 when the government made a deal with the party, which it said was in the “national interest,” after seven police officers were killed during a rally that began last month.

It said the decision was made after assurances from the group – which has three members in parliament – that it would abide by the law.

Hundreds of detained TLP supporters were also released from custody earlier this month as part of the deal, and Rizvi – son of party founder Khadim Hussain Rizvi – was expected to be released this week.

Friday will mark the one-year anniversary of the death of Khadim Hussain Rizvi.

The party launched its anti-French campaign after the Parisian satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last year republished cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad – an act considered blasphemous by many Muslims.

Protests in April led the French embassy to issue a warning for all its citizens to leave the country.

The latest round of protests, which drew thousands to a march that began in Lahore, has resulted in several Pakistani cities facing blockade and suspension of some train services.

Read more:

Pakistan radical party suspends march after deal with government

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Deadly clashes after TLP takes a police hostage in Pakistan’s Lahore

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