Pakistan government has released 350 activists of the far-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) religious group, the country’s interior minister informed amidst continued protests demanding the release of the group’s chief. Hundreds of TLP protesters remain encamped on the main highway on Monday near the town of Muridke, about 20km (12 miles) north of Pakistan’s second-biggest city, Lahore, as negotiations between the party’s leadership and a government committee continue.
“We have released 350 TLP workers up to now and we are still waiting to open both sides road of Muridke as per the decision with TLP,” Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed, who is heading the government’s negotiating team, said on Sunday.
A “final round” of negotiations will take place in the capital Islamabad on Monday, TLP Central Information Secretary Pir Ejaz Ashrafi told international media.
The far-right group, which campaigns on the issue of blasphemy and has held several countrywide demonstrations that have paralysed Pakistan in recent years, launched a protest demanding the release of its chief, Saad Rizvi, in Lahore on Friday.
At least two policemen were killed during clashes between protesters and security personnel in Lahore, authorities said, with unconfirmed reports of several protesters also being killed.
TLP official Ashrafi said at least seven protesters had been killed in the clashes, which saw police firing tear gas shells at protesters and authorities putting up roadblocks and digging trenches to attempt to control the demonstrators’ movements.
TLP chief Rizvi has been held in custody since April when he led protests calling for the expulsion of the French ambassador to Pakistan over comments by French President Emmanuel Macron last October that were interpreted by many as Islamophobic.
Earlier this month, the Lahore High Court ordered that Rizvi be released as there was not enough evidence to hold him under the administrative and anti-terrorism detention orders that had been used to arrest him.