Amid violent protests led by an anti-France far-right party, Paris is calling on its citizens and French businesses to temporarily leave.
Islamabad, Pakistan – The French Embassy in Pakistan has advised all French nationals and businesses to temporarily leave the country, after violent protests by a far-right party that accused French President Emmanuel Macron of “blasphemy”.
A French embassy official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the development to Al Jazeera on Thursday.
“I confirm that due to the situation in Pakistan, we have advised French citizens and businesses to temporarily leave the country,” the official said.
A second French official said that while the embassy in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad would remain open, some staff would also be leaving the country.
The France-based AFP news agency quoted an email sent to French citizens in Pakistan advising them to leave.
“Due to the serious threats to French interests in Pakistan, French nationals and French businesses are invited to temporarily leave the country,” the embassy said in the email, AFP reported.
“Departures will be made by existing commercial airlines.”
Pakistan’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment regarding Thursday’s developments.
Anti-French sentiment has been at the center of the far-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) message since it organized protests last November against Macron’s comments which have been viewed by many, including Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, as “encouraging Islamophobia”.
These protests were quelled after the TLP reached an agreement with the Pakistani government to raise the question of the expulsion of the French ambassador, the boycott of all French products and the taking of other measures before the Parliament.
This week, however, violent demonstrations broke out across the country when the government arrested TLP leader Saad Rizvi in what appeared to be a preventive measure before the April 20 deadline issued by the TLP for the French envoy’s expulsion expired.
At least two police officers were killed and hundreds of police officers and protesters were injured in clashes during nationwide protests.
Large gatherings were held in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, in the eastern city of Lahore, near the capital Islamabad, and elsewhere.
Major freeways and intercity roads were closed for much of Monday and Tuesday as protests and clashes continued. Police fired water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters in some areas.
Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed said on Wednesday that the government had eliminated most of the protests and that he was go to ban the TLP under anti-terrorism legislation.
The November protests followed Macron’s backing for the right to repost cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, considered “blasphemous” by many Muslims.
The cartoons in question are also considered by many to be Islamophobic, as they often associate faith with “terrorism”.
Blasphemy is a sensitive subject in Pakistan, where insulting the Prophet of Islam, the Holy Book or other religious figures are crimes that can lead to death sentence.
Increasingly, allegations of blasphemy have led to mob violence or targeted attacks, with at least 78 people killed in such violence since 1990, according to an Al Jazeera tally.
In the latest such incident, Taqi Shah, a religious scholar belonging to the minority Shia Muslim sect was put to death in Jhang town in March after being accused of “blasphemy”.
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.