Lahore, April 19: Eleven Pakistani police officers seized by supporters of a radical Islamist group campaigning to get the French ambassador expelled have been released, officials said Monday.
The officers were grabbed and taken as hostages during the latest violent clashes between police and Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) protesters in Lahore.
A video circulating on social media, confirmed by a police source, showed some of them bloodied and bruised, with bandages around their heads.
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said early Monday that “11 policemen who were made hostages” had been released after talks with the TLP, which the government banned last week after effectively labelling it a terrorist organisation.
“Negotiations have been started with TLP; the first round completed successfully,” said Rashid in a video on Twitter.
Lahore police confirmed the release of the hostages, adding that one of the group was a ranger from the country’s paramilitary force.
The officers had been held at a TLP mosque stronghold in Lahore, which is now packed with supporters and surrounded by police.
The group has waged an anti-France campaign for months since President Emmanuel Macron defended the right of Charlie Hebdo magazine to republish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed — an act deemed blasphemous by many Muslims.
Rioting has rocked the country for the past week since the leader of the TLP was detained in Lahore after calling for a march on the capital to evict the French ambassador.
The protests have paralysed cities and led to the deaths of six policemen. TLP leaders say several of the party’s supporters have also been killed and many wounded in clashes.