Pakistan far-right group frees 11 police hostages

Interior minister says talks with banned Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan ongoing.

Pakistan far-right group frees 11 police hostages

The banned Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a far-right religious group, released on Monday 11 policemen held hostage in Pakistan's northeastern city, the interior minister said.

Clashes erupted in Lahore on Sunday, the provincial capital of Punjab province, when police surrounded the group's main office in an attempt to free the hostages "kidnapped" earlier in the day.

"Talks have started with the TLP. The first round went well and the second round will take place after sahur [pre-dawn meal in Ramadan]," Sheikh Rashid said.

Deaths and injuries were reported during the clashes. The government, however, did not release any figures. Religious groups, in a sign of protest, called for a nationwide strike.

Last week, Pakistan banned the far-right religious group after it staged violent protests in major cities for three days. It was demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador over offensive cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad published in France last year.

The minister while announcing the ban said the group resorted to violence, carried out attacks on policemen and blocked roads and highways.

The government action came two days after the arrest of Saad Rizvi, the head of the TLP, sparked protests by his supporters. At least four people, including two policemen, were killed and hundreds injured in pitched battles between the security forces and the TLP supporters across the country.

Protests had broken out in several Muslim countries over France’s response to the murder in October last year of a teacher who showed cartoons of Prophet Muhammad in class.

French President Emmanuel Macron said at the time that France would “not give up our cartoons” while accusing French Muslims of “separatism” and describing Islam as “a religion in crisis.”