Radical Islamists clash with police en route to Pakistan’s capital

Thousands of supporters of a banned radical Islamist party have departed from the eastern Pakistan city of Lahore, clashing with police for a second day, a party spokesman and witnesses said on Saturday.

The group formed on Friday with the goal of reaching the capital, Islamabad, to pressure the government to release Saad Rizvi, the head of the Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party.

Rizvi was arrested last year at a time of demonstrations against France over the publication of caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

Violent clashes erupted on Friday between security forces and Islamists in Lahore leaving at least two police officers and two demonstrators dead.

Sajid Saifi, spokesman for Rizvi’s party, said supporters spent the night near the Ravi River Bridge and in the early morning started again toward Islamabad despite heavy teargas.

Saifi said the huge crowd removed barricades and exited the city limits but again faced security forces near the town of Kala Shah Kako.

Saifi said “many” party supporters were injured by teargas canisters as they attempted to leave Lahore. Witnesses said the rally-goers were on foot but some vehicles were moving alongside them to take the injured to hospitals and to bring food and water.

Rizvi’s party gained prominence in Pakistan’s 2018 選挙, campaigning on a single issue: defending the country’s blasphemy law, which calls for the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam. It has a history of staging violent protests to pressure the government to accept its demands.

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