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Pakistan’s capital blocked off over anti-France protest

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Pakistan authorities sealed off a major road into Islamabad for a second day Monday as a far-right religious party held fresh anti-France protests.

Around a thousand protesters gathered at the roadblock preventing them from entering the capital, a day after 5,000 people rallied in neighbouring Rawalpindi.

Authorities have suspended mobile phone services in Islamabad and surrounding areas since early Sunday to prevent rally organisers from coordinating, apart from some brief intervals when coverage appeared to resume.

Commuters faced lengthy delays on alternative routes into the city.

Pakistan has seen small and scattered protests in recent weeks after French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the beheading of a teacher by an extremist at a school near Paris.

The teacher had shown cartoons of Mohammed -- forbidden under Islam's ban on depictions of the prophet -- during a class on free speech.

Macron's response triggered anger across the Islamic world, with tens of thousands in Pakistan, neighbouring Iran and other Muslim countries in South Asia flooding the streets and organising anti-French boycotts.

Pakistan has lodged a complaint with France over what it called a "systematic Islamophobic campaign" in the European nation.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has 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.

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

Rights groups have urged the country to reform its blasphemy legislation because it is often abused to settle personal vendettas.

Sunday's march was organised by hardline cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, whose party, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), is known for violent protests over the issue.

In 2018, the country was paralysed by violent TLP protests across Pakistan following the acquittal of Christian woman Asia Bibi, who had been accused of disrespecting the Prophet Mohammed.

Pakistan authorities sealed off a major road into Islamabad for a second day Monday as a far-right religious party held fresh anti-France protests.

Around a thousand protesters gathered at the roadblock preventing them from entering the capital, a day after 5,000 people rallied in neighbouring Rawalpindi.

Authorities have suspended mobile phone services in Islamabad and surrounding areas since early Sunday to prevent rally organisers from coordinating, apart from some brief intervals when coverage appeared to resume.

Commuters faced lengthy delays on alternative routes into the city.

Pakistan has seen small and scattered protests in recent weeks after French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the beheading of a teacher by an extremist at a school near Paris.

The teacher had shown cartoons of Mohammed — forbidden under Islam’s ban on depictions of the prophet — during a class on free speech.

Macron’s response triggered anger across the Islamic world, with tens of thousands in Pakistan, neighbouring Iran and other Muslim countries in South Asia flooding the streets and organising anti-French boycotts.

Pakistan has lodged a complaint with France over what it called a “systematic Islamophobic campaign” in the European nation.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has 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.

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

Rights groups have urged the country to reform its blasphemy legislation because it is often abused to settle personal vendettas.

Sunday’s march was organised by hardline cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, whose party, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), is known for violent protests over the issue.

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In 2018, the country was paralysed by violent TLP protests across Pakistan following the acquittal of Christian woman Asia Bibi, who had been accused of disrespecting the Prophet Mohammed.

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