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Tens of thousands mourn the death of radical priests in Pakistan

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) – Tens of thousands of supporters on Saturday filled the funeral of a radical cleric whose Islamist party has defended Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law calling for the death penalty for insulting Islam.

The mourners gathered in the eastern city of Lahore, where Islamist scholar and leader Khadim Hussein Rizvi died two days ago at the age of 54.

Rizvi’s party, Tehreek-e-Labiak, has only two seats in parliament, but his movement has repeatedly pushed for its cause by holding large demonstrations.

Last Sunday, Rizvi led thousands of his followers at a sit-in in the capital, Islamabad, protesting against the re-release in France of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, which he considered blasphemous. Protesters briefly clashed with security forces at the demonstration, which was one in a wave of protests across the country expressing anger over the caricatures.

The Pakistani government promised on Tuesday that the protesters̵

7; demands to sever diplomatic ties with France and expel the French ambassador would soon be discussed in parliament. A spokesman for Tehreek-e-Labiak said the government had also agreed to release party members detained during the recent protests.

The radical Islamist party became prominent in Pakistan’s elections in 2018 and fought on a single-point agenda to defend the country’s blasphemy law.

In November 2017, its followers staged a 21-day protest and sat-in after a reference to the holiness of the Prophet Muhammad was removed from the text of a form of government.

Rizvi led the protests last year after Pakistani authorities released Aasia Bibi, a Christian Pakistani woman who was held on death row for eight years on charges of committing blasphemy. A court acquitted her, but she had to flee to Canada after threats to her life.

The prophetic caricatures published in France sparked protests throughout Asia and the Middle East calling for a boycott of French products. They were also seen as the trigger for several deadly attacks on French citizens and interests in recent weeks.

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