Radical Pakistan party releases 11 police hostages after anti-France protests

Police officers patrol during a clash with supporters of banned Islamic political party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) in Lahore, on April 18, 2021.
Police officers patrol during a clash with supporters of banned Islamic political party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) in Lahore, on April 18, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LAHORE (AFP) - Eleven Pakistani police officers seized by supporters of a radical Islamist group as part of their campaign to get the French ambassador expelled have been released, officials said Monday (April 19).

The officers were grabbed as hostages Sunday by supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) during violent protests in Lahore.

Video circulating on social media - and confirmed unofficially by police as genuine - showed some of them bloodied and bruised, with bandages around their heads.

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the police had been released early Monday after "negotiations" with the TLP, which the government banned last week after effectively labelling it a terrorist organisation.

The officers had been held at a TLP mosque stronghold in Lahore, which is now packed with supporters and surrounded by police.

"Negotiations have been started with TLP; the first round completed successfully," said Mr Rashid in a video on Twitter. "They have released 11 policemen who were made hostages."

He said a second round of negotiations would take place later Monday, although it is not clear what they will discuss.

Previously the TLP had set an April 20 deadline for the expulsion of the French ambassador.

The group has been behind an anti-France campaign for months since President Emmanuel Macron defended the right of Charlie Hebdo magazine to republish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad - an act deemed blasphemous by many Muslims.