Pakistan’s government and an Islamic group have claimed victory after a Dutch lawmaker cancelled plans to hold a contest for drawing caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.
Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, a political party that supports blasphemy laws, called off its protest march on the capital Islamabad after the announcement in the Netherlands shortly after midnight local time on Thursday.
Thousands of activists led by the party’s radical chief Khadim Rizvi were about to reach the capital in a rally that had started in the eastern city of Lahore Wednesday when Dutch far-right Member of Parliament Geert Wilders announced that the competition was being called off.
“We will disperse now,” party leader Pir Afzal Qadri told his cheering supporters, who shouted “Allah-o-Akbar” when they were informed about the cancellation.
“This is our victory. This is a great day for the entire Muslim world. We have stopped infidels from disrespecting our prophet,” Qadri said.
The group wanted to block one of the major entrances into Islamabad to replicate their protest in 2017, when they forced the country’s previous justice minister to step down on a law related to blasphemy after a prolonged blockade of the city.
Hours after the announcement, Pakistan Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the cancellation was a “great victory” for the Pakistani government and the people.
“Long live love for prophet,” the minister tweeted in Urdu.
Prime Minister Imran Khan lamented Europe’s insensitivity to Muslim sentiments, in a video message apparently to appease the threatening protests before they were called off.
The contest by the firebrand politician to draw Mohammed cartoons sparked a march by activists of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a radical Pakistani political party that rallies around the country’s strict blasphemy laws.
Pakistan deployed troops to protect a diplomatic enclave on Thursday as protesters angry about the contest approached Islamabad.
Around 700 additional troops have been called in to reinforce the security of a highly fortified enclave in the capital that houses embassies, a police official said.
Thousands of police and paramilitary troops were already guarding the area, the official added on condition of anonymity.
The military was called in as thousands of TLP supporters continued their march on Islamabad despite government efforts to negotiate.
The TLP began its march from the eastern city of Lahore on Wednesday.
The contest echoes the Mohammed cartoons controversy of 2005, when the publication of pictures of Mohammed in a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, led to protests in many Muslim countries.
A 26-year-old Pakistani who had threatened Wilders with a attack was remanded in custody by a judge in the Dutch city of the Hague earlier Thursday.
The man had said in a video on Facebook that he was planning to attack Wilders.
He is being accused of preparing to commit a murder with a terrorist intent, among other crimes. (dpa/NAN)