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Pakistan 'to boycott French goods' following mass protests over Macron

Pakistan ‘will boycott French goods’ following mass protests over Macron’s defence of using cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed

  • Weeks of Islamic protests have followed Macron’s defence of freedom of speech 
  • Party leading demos in Pakistan claim the government has bowed to demands
  • The Islamist faction claims goods will be boycotted and ambassador kicked out
  • Islamabad has not commented but sources say no diplomatic ties will be cut 

An Islamist party in Pakistan has called off its violent protests against Emmanuel Macron claiming that the government has pledged to boycott French goods.

Weeks of furious demonstrations have followed the French president’s staunch defence of freedom of expression since a schoolteacher was beheaded by a jihadist for showing his class cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

Pakistan is among a number of Muslim countries where thousands have turned out to burn effigies of Macron and his tricolore flag – an historic symbol of opposition to clericalism.

The Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party, who led thousands of demonstrators to Islamabad on Sunday, said they had called off their people after assurances of a boycott by ministers. 

People burn an effigy of French President Macron, during a protest against his comments over Prophet Muhammad caricatures, in Karachi, Pakistan on Friday

Boycott sign covers a store showcase displaying French beauty products, in protest in Peshawar, Pakistan on Tuesday

Truck drivers stand as workers remove a shipping container in front of the French consulate at the end of an anti-France demonstration by religious party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), in Islamabad on Tuesday 

Karachi has not officially commented and there is no detail on how the boycott might operate. Pakistan imported £317 million worth of goods from France last year, predominantly pharmaceutical products.  

Up to 5,000 protesters on Sunday had attempted to reach the capital Islamabad from the nearby city of Rawalpindi, but authorities blocked their path with shipping containers.

Hundreds of protesters remained at the roadblock throughout Monday and into Tuesday morning.

TLP claimed that following late night talks the government agreed to the boycott and also to expel the French ambassador. 

But a senior government official who asked not to be named told AFP that the ‘government has no intention of cutting diplomatic ties with any country.’

He added that the situation had been ‘handled accordingly’ to ensure the protesters left peacefully.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs would not give details about what it said were ‘successful talks’ with the TLP, but the government released a statement ordering the release of all activists arrested over the past three days.

The French embassy did not respond to requests for comment. 

Supporters of Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan, a religious political party, block a main highway during an anti-France rally in Islamabad, Pakistan on Monday

People chant slogans as they set fire to France’s flag during a protest against the cartoon publications of Prophet Mohammad in France and comments by the French President Emmanuel Macron, in Karachi, Pakistan October 31

Women protesting against the Charlie Hebdo cartoons in Pakistan on Saturday

Adam Weinstein, a fellow at the Quincy Institute think tank said it was unlikely the government would move to cut ties with France, but that the episode had shown the TLP’s ‘growing power to mobilise without warning.’ 

The protests erupted after Macron defended France’s freedom of speech laws, in the wake of the killing of a teacher who had shown caricatures of the Muslim prophet to his class.

All depictions of the Prophet are forbidden by Islam.

Phone services were restored late Monday after being suspended in both Islamabad and Rawalpindi for two days, a common tactic used by authorities to prevent communication between protesters and leaders.

Blasphemy is a particularly contentious issue in Pakistan, where anyone deemed to have insulted Islam or Muslim figures can face the death penalty.

The TLP is known for violent protests over the issue. Its activists paralysed the country in 2018 following the acquittal of Christian woman Asia Bibi, who had been accused of disrespecting the Prophet Mohammed.

Star Bangladesh cricketer Shakib Al Hasan has been forced to make a public apology after receiving Islamist threats for attending a Hindu ceremony in neighbouring India.

The leading all-rounder is the latest target of increasingly vocal Islamists who have also staged huge anti-France rallies in recent weeks over the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

Shakib, who has recently completed a year’s ban for failing to report corrupt approaches, set off a social media storm in the Muslim-majority country after attending a ceremony in Kolkata dedicated to a Hindu goddess.

Islamic preachers in Bangladesh say people should not attend the ceremonies of other faiths.

‘I was on the stage for barely two minutes. People are talking about this and thought I inaugurated it,’ Shakib told an online forum late Monday.

‘I did not do this and being a conscious Muslim I would not do this. But, maybe, I should not have gone there. I am sorry for this and apologise,’ he said. 

Leading all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan has apologised for attending a Hindu ceremony

‘As a practising Muslim I always try to follow religious customs. Please forgive me if I have done anything wrong,’ he added.

Shakib spoke hours after a man made personal threats against him on a Facebook live forum, accusing him of ‘hurting religious sentiment’.

The man later apologised and went into hiding, but he was arrested in the northeastern district of Sunamganj on Tuesday.

Shakib, currently the International Cricket Council’s top-ranked all-rounder in one-day internationals, was found in October 2019 to have breached the ICC anti-corruption code and was banned for two years, with one year suspended.

In 2015, he became the first cricketer to hold the ICC’s top all-rounder ranking in the game’s three formats: tests, one-day internationals and Twenty20 internationals.

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