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Pakistan parliament to decide on French envoy expulsion after anti-France protests

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Supporters of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party shout slogans as they block a street during a protest after their leader was detained following his calls for the expulsion of the French ambassador, in Lahore on April 19, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Pakistan’s parliament is set to vote on whether to expel the French ambassador over the publication of derogatory cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in France, which sparked large-scale protests in the Asian country.

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed made the remarks in a video message on Tuesday after overnight talks with representatives of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which has been staging protests for more than a week to denounce the cartoons' publication and the April 12 arrest of the group’s leader, Saad Rizvi, who threatened the government with protests over the demand to expel the French envoy.

“After long negotiations with TLP, this has been agreed that we will table a resolution in parliament today to expel French ambassador,” Ahmed said, adding that the group had agreed to "call off its protest sit-ins from the entire country."

The fate of the resolution in the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, where the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan holds a simple majority is unclear.

The TLP has been calling for the boycott of French products and the expulsion of French ambassador under an agreement reached with the government in February.

The TLP has been waging an anti-France campaign for months since French President Emmanuel Macron in October publicly attacked Islam in defense of the publication of derogatory cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Macron’s comments angered not only people in Pakistan, but across Islamic nations.

The anti-France campaign in Pakistan erupted into bloody violence last week following the arrest of the TLP leader after he called for a march on the capital to demand the French ambassador's expulsion.

TLP’s supporters on Monday also took 11 Pakistani police officers hostage for hours.

The Pakistan government banned the TLP, and arrested thousands of protesters, but the interior minister said later that cases against protesters over violent anti-France protests would be withdrawn.

The French embassy last week called on all its citizens to leave the country. A source at the foreign ministry on Monday said Paris was recalling all non-essential staff and their families.

The resolution comes a day after the Pakistani premier, in a televised address defended his decision to not expel the French envoy, saying it could affect the country’s trade ties with the European Union.

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