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ISLAMABAD: Religious parties held a protest demonstration in Red Zone against a blasphemous cartoon competition planned by an anti-Islam politician in Netherlands as the capital administration and police remained busy in security duties during the election of the prime minister in the National Assembly on Friday.

Similar protest rallies were also held in Rawalpindi with the participants demanding the government of Pakistan to expel the Dutch ambassador and sever diplomatic ties with the European country.

Leaders, activists and supporters of different religious-political parties, including Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan, along with the management of mosques and students of seminaries reached the high security area in the capital without any hurdles and partially paralysed it.

Rallies also held in Rawalpindi

Officials of the police and the capital administration told Dawn that their seniors remained in the dark about the protest till the participants reached Aabpara.

Earlier, a large number of people entered the capital from Rawalpindi and moved on Islamabad Highway and reached Aabpara from Zero Point and Kashmir Highway. They were carrying placards and banners and chanting slogans against Netherlands. More people also joined the protesters at Aabpara.

Senior police and administration officials reached the spot and asked the protesters to disperse but the participants refused and moved towards the Red Zone to protest outside the Dutch embassy.

In the meantime, roads leading towards the Red Zone, including Kashmir Highway, were blockade and traffic was diverted to alternative routes which resulted into gridlocks on other roads.

The protesters later reached Radio Pakistan Chowk and Khayaban-i-Suhrawardi by removing barricades.

Later, heavy deployment, including that of Anti-Riot Unit, was made at all the eight pickets around the Red Zone and the protesters were pushed back. As a result, they again gathered at Khyaban-i-Suhrawardi and blocked it from both sides near Club Road.

Till filing of this report, the protesters were staging a sit-in there and senior government officers were holding talks with them.

In Rawalpindi, religious groups held separate protests demanding deportation of the Dutch diplomats from all the Islamic countries, including Pakistan, and boycott of its products. The protesters were holding placards and banners inscribed with slogans against the organisers and participants of the competition.

Shabab-i-Islami took out a protest rally from Amna Mosque to Sadiqabad Square under the leadership of Mufti Mohammad Hanif Qureshi. A large number of people participated in the rally and condemned the act aimed at hurting the sentiments of the Muslims.

He said the newly-elected Prime Minister Imran Khan should deport the Dutch ambassador and sever diplomatic ties with the European country.

“If Imran Khan ignores the issue, he will meet the fate of Nawaz Sharif who had allegedly kept mum over such issues,” he said.

A protest rally was also taken out by Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI-F) to denounce the act. The rally was led by JUI district chief Maulana Taj Mohammad Khan and Maulana Abdul Ghaffar Toheedi. The speakers said the government of Pakistan should sever diplomatic ties with Netherlands and ask its ambassador to leave Pakistan.

A conference, “Tahafuz Namoos-i-Risalat (SAW)” was also organised by Tanzeem Ahle Sunnat Pakistan to register its protest against the holding of the blasphemous cartoon contest.

Addressing the conference, Mufti Pir Mohammad Riazuddin said it was a challenge for the entire Islamic world.

He said the Muslim countries should evolve a joint strategy against countries involved in hurting sentiments of the Muslims.

A rally was also held by Pir Abdul Shakoor Naqashbandi and participated by Maulana Umer Farooq Naqashbandi, Dr Mohammad Afzal and Dildar Tanoli and others.

The protesters urged the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the United Nations (UN) to make effective legislation to restrain such blasphemous acts in future.

Similarly, Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan also staged a protest demonstration and a rally in Kallar Syedan.

Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2018