The Pakistani government has released 350 activists of the far-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) religious group, the country’s interior minister said, as protests demanding the release of the group’s leader enter its fourth day.
Hundreds of TLP protesters remain on the main highway Monday near the town of Muridke, about 20km (12 miles) north of Pakistan’s second largest city, Lahore, as negotiations between the party leadership and a government committee continue.
“We have released 350 TLP workers so far and we are still waiting for Muridke’s way to be opened by both sides under the TLP decision,” Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed, who heads the government’s negotiating team, said on Sunday. .
A “final round” of negotiations will take place in the capital Islamabad, TLP Central Information Secretary Pir Ejaz Ashrafi told Al Jazeera.
The far-right group, which campaigns for blasphemy and has held several nationwide demonstrations that have paralyzed Pakistan in recent years, launched a protest demanding the release of its boss, Saad Rizvi, in Lahore on Friday.
At least two police officers were killed during clashes between protesters and riot police in Lahore, authorities said, with unconfirmed reports of several protesters also being killed.
TLP official Ashrafi said at least seven protesters had been killed in the clashes, which saw police firing tear gas at protesters and authorities set up roadblocks and dug trenches in an attempt to control demonstrators’ movements.
TLP chief Rizvi has been held in custody since April, when he led protests demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador to Pakistan over comments e French President Emmanuel Macron last October who were interpreted by many as Islamophobic.
Earlier this month, the Lahore High Court ordered Rizvi released because there was insufficient evidence to hold him under the administrative and counterterrorism detention orders used for his arrest.
The TLP chief, however, remains in detention by the government.
The far-right TLP was declared a “banned organization” under anti-terrorism legislation by the Pakistani government in April, days after police first arrested Rizvi.
On Sunday, Interior Minister Ahmed said the government was ready to drop charges against TLP activists and leaders and reconsider the cases of dozens of TLP activists whose names have been placed on a list of citizens monitored by anti-terrorism laws.
Ahmed said he would seek the formation of a commission by the speaker so that work could begin as soon as possible.
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