World French embassy advises citizens to leave Pakistan

12:50  15 april  2021
12:50  15 april  2021 Source:   afp.com

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The French embassy in Pakistan on Thursday advised all French nationals and companies to temporarily leave the country, after violent anti-France protests paralysed large parts of the country this week.

a man flying through the air on a beach: Thousands of hardline Islamist supporters took to the streets in anti-French protests across Pakistan this week © Arif ALI Thousands of hardline Islamist supporters took to the streets in anti-French protests across Pakistan this week

"Due to the serious threats to French interests in Pakistan, French nationals and French companies are advised to temporarily leave the country," the embassy said in an email to French citizens.

"The departures will be carried out by existing commercial airlines."

Anti-French sentiment has been simmering for months in Pakistan since the government of President Emmanuel Macron expressed support for a magazine's right to republish cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed -- deemed blasphemous by many Muslims.

French nationals in Pakistan refuse embassy call to leave

  French nationals in Pakistan refuse embassy call to leave The French community in Pakistan is torn between disbelief, fear and annoyance in reaction to their embassy's call for them to leave the country after Francophobic rioting this week by an extremist Islamic party. Most, it seems, have decided to stay put. In a terse three-line email, accompanied by the words "urgent", the embassy in Islamabad on Thursday recommended its nationals and French companies temporarily leave Pakistan, because of "serious threats".The email, which did not specify the nature of the risks, caused shock and consternation among the few hundred-strong French community.

On Wednesday, the Pakistani government moved to ban an extremist political party whose leader had called for the expulsion of the French ambassador.

Saad Rizvi, leader of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), was detained hours after making his demands, bringing thousands of his supporters to the streets in cities across Pakistan.

Two police officers died in the clashes, which saw water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets used to hold back crowds.

The TLP are notorious for holding days-long, violent road protests over blasphemy issues, causing major disruption to the country.

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But successive governments have a long history of avoiding confrontation with hardline Islamist groups, fearing any crackdown on religious parties could spark wider violence in the deeply conservative Islamic republic.

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"We are in favour of protecting the Prophet's honour, but the demand which they are seeking could have portrayed Pakistan as a radical nation worldwide," Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told a news conference on Wednesday.

Macron's comments in September triggered anger across the Muslim world, with tens of thousands in Pakistan, neighboring Iran and other Muslim countries flooding the streets and organizing anti-French boycotts.

TLP supporters brought the capital Islamabad to a standstill at the time.

Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in conservative Pakistan, where laws allow for the death penalty to be used on anyone deemed to have insulted Islam or Islamic figures.

On Twitter, the hashtag "#FrenchLeavePakistan" was trending with 42,000 tweets as of Thursday afternoon.

Weeks after satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo republished the cartoons, its former offices in Paris were attacked by a Pakistani man who stabbed two people.

At the time, Prime Minister Imran Khan accused the French president of attacking the Muslim faith and urged Islamic countries to work together to counter what he called growing repression in Europe.

In an address to the United Nations, Khan, a populist leader who has been known to play to Pakistan's hardline religious base, blasted Charlie Hebdo for re-publishing the cartoons, saying "wilful provocations" should be "universally outlawed".


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