Islamabad police fire tear gas as protesters breach blockades outside Red Zone

Islamabad police on Friday briefly fired tear gas at protesters who broke through security blockades near the Red Zone in a failed attempt to demonstrate at the French Embassy against the printing of blasphemous images depicting Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

No one was injured and protesters later moved back towards a gathering spot originally agreed with the authorities, police said.

Muslims around the world have protested against France and its President Emmanuel Macron, who has vowed to stand firm against what he described as attacks on French values and freedom of expression by radical Islamists.

Around 3,000 protesters gathered in Islamabad, about half a kilometre from the fortified Diplomatic Enclave where the French Embassy is, according to a Reuters witness. They held posters and chanted slogans calling for the boycott of French products and denouncing Macron.

Roads leading to the enclave were blocked using shipping containers and barbed wire and were guarded by riot police, but protesters managed to climb over the blockades — prompting police to fire tear gas.

“We needed to fire tear gas shells when the protesters tried to violate their agreement,” police official Amanullah Niazi said, referring to an agreement with protest leaders that they would not progress beyond a certain point.

In response, the protesters hurled stones at police vehicles and vandalised a police post. They also set fire to plants in a forest opposite the Serena Hotel.

The protesters are currently present at Aabpara Chowk and have announced that they will spend the night there, according to our correspondent covering the protest.

The protest leaders also announced via microphones at the site that they would not hold negotiations with anyone other than Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

The protest was organised by a traders’ association, which has already announced that it would take French products off shelves across the country. Activists of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl and other religious groups also attended the demonstration, which came as the country marks Eid Miladun Nabi on Friday.

Protests and gatherings marking the occasion were also held in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar.

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