Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid on Thursday said that the chief of the proscribed Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Saad Rizvi, had insisted on the closure of the French embassy in his talks with the interior minister.
Addressing a ceremony in Lahore, the interior minister said: "[Contrary to what] one person — who is very respectable and is a major religious figure from Karachi — [says], when I spoke with Saad Rizvi, he was insistent on [the closure of the] French embassy and he was convinced that this [issue] be brought in the [National] Assembly.
"I have made signatures on this [previous agreement] and I am steadfast on this. As for the rest of the problems, two ministers have been appointed and they will answer your queries."
Responding to a question, Rashid said that he had received instructions from Prime Minister Imran Khan during the ceremony and "he said the instruction is this that [it is better] if one minister speaks [on the TLP issue]".
The interior minister's comments came after Mufti Muneebur Rehman dispelled the impression on Monday that the TLP had demanded the expulsion of the French ambassador and the closure of the embassy. He was among the clerics who had facilitated talks between the government and the proscribed group, helping both sides reach an agreement after an impasse of three weeks.
Speaking a day after the government announced the agreement, the cleric had claimed that "lies were spoken on television about the talks [with the TLP], that they had demanded the expulsion of the French ambassador, the closure of the embassy and to break ties with the European Union."
"So how can trust be established when government officials speak lies publicly?" he had questioned.
Earlier, a statement issued by the group's central committee on October 27 had called upon the government to fulfil its agreement of expelling the French ambassador. TLP leader Syed Sarwar Shah Saifi had said that France had committed blasphemy at the government level and the TLP thus expected an official response from the incumbent government.
Mufti Muneeb's comments had also contradicted what Rashid had said on Oct 26 regarding talks with the group. The interior minister had said the government had "no reservations" on any of the demands put forward by the TLP except for the shutting down of the French embassy and expulsion of the French ambassador over blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Addressing the media in Islamabad after a meeting of the country's civil and military leadership, he had said that there was agreement on all issues discussed with the TLP and it was decided that their demands pertaining to the French embassy and ambassador could not be accepted.
The interior minister had expressed the hope that the TLP would withdraw its demands for the expulsion of the French envoy and the shutting down of the French embassy.
The TLP had launched the latest round of protests in Lahore on the 12th of Rabiul Awwal, primarily to exert pressure on the Punjab government for the release of its chief, Hafiz Saad Hussain Rizvi, the son of its late founder Khadim Rizvi. The younger Rizvi has been kept in detention by the Punjab government since April 12 for “maintenance of public order".
However, TLP leader Pir Ajmal Qadri had later said the purpose of the move was "respect for the Holy Prophet (PBUH)", while also demanding Rizvi's release.
It had also announced to march on Islamabad, prompting the government to block the routes leading to the capital.
Five police officials were also martyred and scores from both sides were injured in the latest round of violence in confrontations with the proscribed group.
One constable was found lying in a field on Monday near Wadala Cheema village after being allegedly kidnapped and tortured to death by TLP workers.