Pakistan Protests Against Prophet Cartoon Contest in Netherlands
Some 10,000 supporters of the Tehreek-i-Labaik group, which helped Imran Khan to become prime minister following last month's national elections, called on Imran Khan to cut diplomatic ties with the Netherlands.
Supporters of the Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) Islamist political party raise their hands as they listen to the speech of their leader during a protest march to condemn the cartoon competition by the Netherlands, in Lahore, Pakistan. REUTERS
Islamabad: Thousands of hard-line Islamists angered over a far-right Dutch lawmaker's plans to hold a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest marched toward Pakistan's capital on Thursday after police briefly stopped them because of security reasons.
Some 10,000 supporters of the Tehreek-i-Labaik group, which helped Imran Khan to become prime minister following last month's national elections, set out on the march Wednesday, calling on Khan to cut diplomatic ties with the Netherlands.
The demonstrators were expected to camp out near Islamabad later Thursday. Authorities are blocking the capital's key roads by putting out shipping containers to prevent demonstrators from reaching near the area where the Dutch and other foreign embassies are located.
Earlier, police halted the march in Jhelum, about 160 kilometers from Islamabad but later it was allowed to resume, party spokesman Eijaz Ashrafi told The Associated Press.
He said they refused to disperse, saying the police will have to "kill us" to stop the march.
Ashrafi said they told Khan's government that it had two options: Cut diplomatic ties with the Netherlands or kill them and "send our dead bodies to Lahore."
The party's firebrand chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi in Jhelum also warned Khan to remove any hurdles.
"We are on roads to show to the world that we can die to protect the honor of our Prophet," he told demonstrators.
The rally comes as emotions are running high in Pakistan against the cartoon contest.
The cartoon contest is being organized by Geert Wilders, a Dutch lawmaker with a history of inflammatory statements about Islam. The Dutch government has distanced itself from the contest but says it is committed to upholding the right to free speech.
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal said Thursday that Islamabad conveyed its deep concern to Netherlands over the planned cartoon contest.
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