Pakistani police clash with banned Islamist group seeking release of its leader

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Oct. 23 (UPI) — Supporters of a banned Islamist party in Pakistan clashed with police and disrupted traffic during a march to the country’s capital Saturday, local officials said.

Demonstrators began their march Friday from the eastern city of Lahore to Islamabad to demand the release of Saad Rizvi, leader of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Labiak Party, Sky News reported. Last year, Rizvi was arrested during demonstrations over caricatures depicting the Prophet Muhammad in French publications.

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After spending the night near a bridge, the demonstrators began their march on Saturday amid tear gas fired by security forces, a party spokesman told Sky News. Many of the demonstrators were injured.

Three policemen and several others were injured in clashes with party supporters, Dawn reported. Two party workers later died from their injuries.

“Protesters also hurled petrol bombs on officials,” Mazhar Hussain, a spokesman for local law enforcement, told the paper.

However, Saddam Bukhari, a party spokesman, told the paper that police attacked what he called a peaceful rally. Other statements issued by the party said the march was “attacked from all sides” and endured its “worst shelling in history.”

By Saturday evening, Lahore’s roads were open for traffic as the march moved outside city limits, Dawn reported. Punjab police told the paper that marchers had reached the city of Muridke. Authorities were closing other roads to prevent the march from advancing.

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Meanwhile, law enforcement in the capital city are bracing for the marchers’ arrival, reports Dawn. Police have arrested 50 leaders, activists and workers in Islamabad.