Protestors in Pakistan clash with police while marching toward French embassy

Pakistani protesters return teargas shells during a demonstration in Islamabad on Oct. 30, 2020, following French President Emmanuel Macron's comments over Prophet Muhammad's caricatures. (AFP)
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Updated 31 October 2020

Protestors in Pakistan clash with police while marching toward French embassy

  • Demonstrators in Multan burn an effigy of Emmanuel Macron as they call for an end to diplomatic relations with France
  • Similar protests were also witnessed in other parts of the Muslim world

ISLAMABAD: Thousands of emotionally charged demonstrators clashed with the police on Friday while trying to reach the French Embassy in Pakistan’s federal capital, forcing uniformed personnel of the law enforcement agency deployed to protect the Diplomatic Enclave in the city to fire tear gas and beat protestors with batons.

According to video footages broadcast by local media outlets, many of these protestors tried to cross the police barriers. Some of them even managed to climb shipping containers parked outside the diplomatic neighborhood to close its entry and exit points for security purposes.

Crowds of Islamist activists hanged an effigy of French President Emmanuel Macron from a highway overpass after pounding it furiously with their shoes. Several demonstrators were wounded in clashes with police and authorities deployed more security forces to protect the embassy.

In the country's eastern city of Lahore, thousands of worshippers celebrating the Mawlid, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), took to the streets, chanting anti-France slogans, raising banners and clogging major roads en route to a Sufi shrine.

In Multan, a city in Pakistan's eastern Punjab province, thousands more burned an effigy of Macron and demanded that Pakistan sever ties with France and boycott French goods.

Similar demonstrations were also witnessed in other Muslim countries where people poured out of prayer services to join anti-France protests on Friday, as the French president’s vow to protect the right to caricature the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) continued to roil the Muslim world.

In Jerusalem, hundreds of Palestinians protested against Macron outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, chanting, “With our souls and with our blood we sacrifice for our prophet, Muhammad (PBUH).” Some youths scuffled with Israeli police as they exited the esplanade into the Old City. Israeli police said they successfully dispersed the gathering and detained three people.

A few hundred demonstrators in Lebanon's capital Beirut flocked toward the Palais des Pins, the official residence of the French ambassador to Lebanon, but found their way blocked by lines of police officers in riot gear. Carrying black and white flags with Islamist insignia, the Sunni Islamist activists cried, “At your service, oh prophet of God.” Some slung stones at police who responded with tear gas.

Anti-France protests in Lebanon are an embarrassment for Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, who is trying to form a new government that would implement a French plan for reform in Lebanon. France, Lebanon's former colonial ruler, has been helping chart a course for the country out of its severe economic and financial crisis.

A huge crowd of some 50,000 noisily chanting protesters also rallied in Bangladesh's capital of Dhaka, burning effigies of Macron and holding signs that read, “Say no to Islamophobia," “Stop racism,” and “Boycott French products.” Authorities deployed hundreds of riot police and used barbed wire to cordon off the country's main mosque.

In Afghanistan, members of the Islamist party Hizb-e-Islami set the French flag ablaze. Its leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, warned Macron that if he doesn't “control the situation, we are going to a third world war and Europe will be responsible.”

The protests come amid rising tensions between France and Muslim-majority nations, which flared up earlier this month when a young Muslim beheaded a French schoolteacher who had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in class.

Those images, republished by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to mark the opening of the trial for the deadly 2015 attack against the publication, have stirred the ire of Muslims across the world who consider depictions of the prophet blasphemous.


Pakistan Steel Mills workers say will challenge mass layoffs in court

Updated 29 November 2020

Pakistan Steel Mills workers say will challenge mass layoffs in court

  • PSM management argues the company’s accumulated losses reached Rs212 billion ($1.33 billion) in June
  • The termination of 4,500 contracts is believed to be the biggest layoff from a single entity in Pakistan’s history

KARACHI: Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) employees are going to challenge in court the company’s recent decision to terminate the contracts of thousands of workers, union representatives said on Sunday.

The management of the state-owned company on Friday handed letters of termination to some 4,500 employees, arguing that PSM’s accumulated losses had reached Rs212 billion ($1.33 billion) in June, when the government decided that 9,350 workers would have to be fired for the dysfunctional enterprise to be revived.
“PSM has terminated 4,500 employees in the first phase of government’s plan to lay off 9,350 employees ... The employees have refused to accept this termination they have registered protests and have decided to challenge this decision in court next week,” Mirza Maqsood, President of Voice of Pakistan Steel Officers Association, told Arab News.

Located 40 kilometers from Karachi, Pakistan’s largest industrial complex with a steel production capacity of 1.1 million tons has been dysfunctional for the past few years. Its operations were suspended in 2015.
“Neither the Company has funds to revive the Mills nor are funds available from any other source to revive the Steel Mill. In any case, revival of the mill would require, firstly massive investment and secondly, entail a period of at least two years,” reads a PSM termination letter seen by Arab News.
The layoff was defended by federal Industries and Production Minister Hammad Azhar, who on Saturday said the terminated employees would be given compensation of Rs2.3 million on average.

“Since the closure of the mill, the government has paid around Rs35 billion as salaries and Rs20 billion as arears to the employees,” he said.

The discharge of workers is said to be one of the biggest layoffs of employees from a single government entity in the country’s history. 
 Karamat Ali, executive director at Pakistan Institute of Labor Education & Research (PILER), said the PSM layoff in unprecedented.
“No such number of employees have ever been fired from a single government institution,” he said.
The decision was also opposed by the provincial government of Sindh, which vowed to support the affected employees. 
“This is wrong and injustice. They (the federal government) must adhere to their earlier stance and commitments of turning the state institutions around with the help of their champions. I am with the employees,” Sindh Labor Minister Saeed Ghani told Arab News.
Mumrez Khan, convener of a representative body of employees, pensioners, suppliers, dealers and contractors of PSM, said that no serious efforts have been made by the federal government to revive the mill, claiming that negligence had caused losses even higher than those cited by PSM management.

“The accumulated losses have swelled to $12 billion on the account of closure of plants, revenue to the government and imports of steel products,” he said.