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Pakistan PM pushes back against anti-French protests



Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan warned in a televised address on Monday that cutting off relations with France could endanger Pakistan’s exports to the European Union after weeks of violent protests in the country.

A far-right religious group leading the protests has been calling for the expulsion of the French ambassador over President Emmanuel Macron’s defense of French freedom of speech rules, including content that many in Pakistan see as blasphemous.

Khan said expelling the ambassador won’t change anything and instead called on Muslim-majority countries to unite and convince the West to criminalize blasphemy.

“Is sending back the French ambassador and breaking relations going to solve anything? Is there a guarantee that blasphemy in the West will stop?” Khan asked.

The prime minister said that since the 90s, every few years something considered blasphemous is published in the West, and there are violent protests that follow. “Has that approach changed anything?”

Macron defended the right of the press to publish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad after the October terror attack in which a French schoolteacher was beheaded for showing satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons to a classroom.

At least four policemen have died in Pakistan and hundreds were injured in the recent protests. As a result, the French embassy asked French citizens in Pakistan to temporarily leave the country.

Khan warned that expelling the ambassador would have grave consequences for Pakistan’s economy — and none for France.

“This won’t make any difference to France, but I can tell you it will make a difference to Pakistan,” Khan said. “When we send back France’s ambassador, it means we break off relations with the European Union. Half our textile exports go to the European Union. It means half our textile exports will end right there.”

“The damage will be to us, and nothing will happen to France,” Khan, a former cricketer who was educated at Oxford, added.

“I know the West. I guarantee that if we do this, there will be another European country in which this happens. There [in Europe], it’s been made into some issue of free speech. Say they [blaspheme again], and then, are we going to send that ambassador back too?”

Khan was keen to point out that he agreed with the sentiments of the protesters. “Whenever anywhere in the world, the name of our Prophet [Muhammad] is tarnished, we are hurt.”

He has already accused Macron of peddling Islamophobia, and has written to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, calling on the company to ban “hate against Islam” on the platform, including content considered blasphemous by Muslims.

Referring to the protesters, he repeatedly said: “Our purpose is the same.”

Instead, Khan proposed a lobbying effort along with other Muslim-majority countries to convince the West to criminalize blasphemy.

“We need to explain why this hurts us, when in the name of freedom of speech they insult the honor of the prophet,” Khan said.

“When 50 Muslim countries will unite and say this, and say that if something like this happens in any country, then we will launch a trade boycott on them and not buy their goods, that will have an effect.”



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