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Social media temporarily blocked in Pakistan amid anti-France protests

Social media temporarily blocked in Pakistan amid anti-France protests
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Authorities in Pakistan briefly blocked access to social media platforms on Friday amid ongoing anti-French protests across the country spurred by depictions published of the Prophet Muhammad. 

Khurram Mehran, a spokesman for Pakistan’s media regulatory agency, said that platforms like Facebook and Twitter were blocked for four hours Friday, according to The Associated Press

The temporary ban was carried out on orders from Pakistan’s interior ministry, though Mehran gave no additional details on the move, the AP reported. 

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Protests led by the far-right Islamist political party Tehrik-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) have erupted for days throughout the country demanding that the French ambassador be expelled and that the country boycott French products.

The backlash comes after French magazine Charlie Hebdo republished cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad last year.

Most Muslims believe that depictions of prophets in Islam are blasphemous and should therefore be prohibited. 

In an attempt to calm protests, Pakistan’s government on Friday released a note they said was written by the TLP’s now-detained leader, Saad Rizvi, urging demonstrators to stand down. 

Rizvi in his alleged letter called on protesters to peacefully disperse and end the demonstrations that initially erupted Monday following his arrest. 

Pakistan authorities detained the party leader after he said he would lead protests in the country if the government did not order the French ambassador to leave by Tuesday, according to the AP. 

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The AP reported that since Monday, two police officers and three demonstrators have been killed in the ongoing demonstrations — about 580 others have been injured. 

On Thursday, the French Embassy in Pakistan urged all French citizens and companies to temporarily leave the country due to concerns about their safety. 

"Due to the serious threats to French interests in Pakistan, French nationals and French companies are advised to temporarily leave the country," the embassy said in a statement. “The departures will be carried out by existing commercial airlines."

Anti-French sentiment has grown since the reprinting of Muhammad in September, after which two people were stabbed outside Charlie Hebdo's former Paris office. 

In October, a high school teacher in France was decapitated by an 18-year-old Chechen man for showing a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad in class.

Nine people have been arrested so far in connection with the killing.