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LAHORE: To force the federal government to expel the Netherlands’ envoy and sever diplomatic ties with the country over blasphemous caricatures, a rally of Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi, left for Islamabad on Wednesday afternoon.

Last week, the TLP had set Aug 29 (Wedneday) deadline for the federal government, asking it to either meet the demand or face a “long-march” on Islamabad. The federal government sent its minister for religious affairs Noorul Haq Qadri to Lahore on Aug 28 to hold negotiations with the TLP leadership.

Helped by the provincial minister for law and parliamentary affairs Raja Basharat, Mr Qadri held talks with the TLP team comprising Muhammad Afzal Qadri, Allama Waheed Noor and Dr Amini, but failed to achieve any breakthrough.

According to the TLP spokesman, the federal government had sought time to meet the TLP demand, but the Tehreek was not ready to oblige.

The TLP, led by firebrand Khadim Hussain Rizvi, which also made its presence felt in the recent elections, had demanded the government should force the Dutch government to cancel the competition for blasphemous cartoons or snap diplomatic ties with the country, and also put pressure on other Islamic countries to follow suit. Since the judge of the competition was also an

American national, pressure should also be put on the US government, it demanded. Otherwise, “its (Tehreek’s) workers would march on the federal capital and stay there till demands are met.”

According to the TLP spokesman, Peer Zubair Ahmad, over 100 buses, “countless” cars and pickup vans joined the march. “The protesters, who are now in thousands, would grow in numbers on the way to destination as many workers and smaller rallies were waiting on the Grand Trunk Road to join the main march throughout the 200-kilometer long journey.

Not revealing the whole plan, Mr Ahmad told Dawn, “Allama Khadim Hussain Rizvi is leading the march. The entire central executive body is also in the march and so are all leading names of the TLP. They would jointly announce the next plan once we hit the federal capital.”

The TLP march is a grim reminder of its Faizabad sit-in held in November last year, when the party had launched a similar march on the issue of changes in oath of lawmakers and held the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad hostage for over two weeks, which also led to sporadic violence.

The TLP only vacated the place after the court intervened and the army facilitated a deal between the party and the government.

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2018