Three Pakistani policemen were shot dead and 70 more wounded when supporters of a banned extremist group opened fire at a rally on Wednesday, the country’s interior minister said.
The outlawed Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) has been behind major anti-France protests that earlier this year led to the embassy issuing a warning for all French citizens to leave the country.
The latest demonstration began on Friday in the group’s stronghold city of Lahore, from where thousands of people have begun slowly moving towards the capital Islamabad.
“They opened fire on police with Kalashnikovs… three policemen were martyred,” Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad told a press conference, adding that eight of those injured were in a critical condition.
The TLP in turn accused the police of firing on the crowd, with four of its supporters killed.
Police in Punjab province, of which Lahore is the capital, have denied using rubber bullets or guns and would not comment on claims that protesters had died.
“We have used no such weapons against them,” police spokesman Mazhar Hussain told AFP.
The group is protesting the detention of its leader Saad Rizvi, arrested in April when the TLP was outlawed, and demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador.
The TLP has waged an anti-France campaign since President Emmanuel Macron defended the right of a satirical magazine to republish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed — an act deemed blasphemous by many Muslims.