A Pakistani Islamist group called off protests over cartoons of Prophet Mohammad on Nov. 17 saying the government had agreed to their demand for a boycott of French products, the group’s spokesman said.
Thousands of Islamists had clashed with police on the edge of the capital, Islamabad, on Nov. 15 in protests over the recent display of cartoons of the Prophet in France.
“We are calling off our protests after the government signed an agreement that it will officially endorse boycotting French products,” Ejaz Ashrafi, a spokesman for the Tehrik-i-Labaik group, told Reuters by telephone.
The government spokesman was not immediately available for comment on the agreement, which, according to a copy provided by the group and seen by Reuters, was signed by two ministers, a top official and the group’s leaders.
Protests broke out in several Muslim countries over France’s response to a deadly attack last month on a teacher who showed cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammad to pupils during a civics lesson.
For Muslims, depictions of the Prophet are blasphemous.
Pakistan condemned the re-printing of the cartoons.
The agreement between the group and the government also stipulated that the Pakistani parliament would decide within three months on whether to expel the French ambassador.
Also, all detained protesters and their leaders would be set free immediately, the spokesman said, shortly after he was released.
The Islamist group that has made blasphemy its rallying cry had blocked one of the main roads into the capital, demanding the government sever diplomatic ties with France and expel its ambassador.
Pakistani trade with France was valued at nearly $800 million in the last financial year, according to central bank data, with $422 million worth of exports and imports valued at $356 million.
There is a history of violent reactions to perceived incidents of blasphemy in Pakistan, where insulting the Prophet Mohammad carries the death penalty. A mere accusation of blasphemy can provoke a lynching.
The Islamist group called off a similar protest in 2017, in which one police and six protesters were killed, after the government agreed to its demands, which included the resignation of the then law minister.