Pakistani security forces have moved to clear sit-in protests by Islamists in the city of Rawalpindi demonstrating against the arrest of a political leader who called for the expulsion France’s ambassador over depictions of the Prophet Mohamed.
Wednesday's dawn raid on the protesters comes two days after the arrest of Saad Rizvi, head of the Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party, and violent demonstrations by his supporters.
Police are also trying to bring protests under control in the capital Islamabad, Lahore and elsewhere in country.
At least two police officers and three other people have been killed in the violence which began Monday after Rizvi's arrest for threatening protests if the government did not expel the French ambassador to Islamabad over depictions of Islam’s Prophet Mohamed.
Claims government broke promise
The deadly clashes come three days after Rizvi called on Prime Minister Imran Khan to honour a commitment made by the government in February.
The Islamist leader says Khan promised to expel the French envoy before 20 April over the depictions of the prophet published in France. The government says it only committed to discussing the matter in Parliament.
Rizvi emerged as the leader of the Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party in November after the sudden death of his father, Khadim Hussein Rizvi.
His party wants the government to boycott French products and expel the French ambassador under an agreement signed by the government with Rizvi’s party in February.
Repercussions of caricatures of Prophet
Tehreek-e-Labiak and other Islamist parties have denounced French President Emmanuel Macron since October last year, when he defended freedom of expression, including depictions of the Prophet Mohamed.
Macron’s comments came after a young Muslim beheaded French school teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown caricatures of the prophet in class.
The images were republished by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to mark the opening of the trial over the deadly 2015 attack against the publication for the original caricatures.
The depictions have enraged many Muslims in Pakistan and across the world, who believe them to be blasphemous.