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French embassy advises citizens to leave Pakistan

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ISLAMABAD: The French embassy in Pakistan on Thursday advised all French nationals and companies to temporarily leave the country, after violent anti-France protests paralysed large parts of the country this week.
“Due to the serious threats to French interests in Pakistan, French nationals and French companies are advised to temporarily leave the country,” the embassy said in an email to French citizens.
“The departures will be carried out by existing commercial airlines.”
Anti-French sentiment has been simmering for months in Pakistan since the government of President Emmanuel Macron expressed support for a magazine’s right to republish cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed — deemed blasphemous by many Muslims.
On Wednesday, the Pakistani government moved to ban an extremist political party whose leader had called for the expulsion of the French ambassador.
Saad Rizvi, leader of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), was detained hours after making his demands, bringing thousands of his supporters to the streets in cities across Pakistan.
Two police officers died in the clashes, which saw water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets used to hold back crowds.
TLP supporters brought the capital Islamabad to a standstill in November last year for three days with a series of anti-France rallies.
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in conservative Pakistan, where laws allow for the death penalty to be used on anyone deemed to have insulted Islam or Islamic figures.