Pakistan rally ends after Dutch lawmaker cancels cartoon contest

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ISLAMABAD: Thousands of Pakistan’s hardline Islamists called off their rally on Friday after reaching near Islamabad following the cancellation of a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest organised by a Dutch anti-Muslim lawmaker.

The far-right opposition politician Geert Wilders said on Thursday he cancelled the cartoon contest following death threats and concerns other people could be put at risk.

The decision prompted firebrand Pakistani cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi to end his march on Friday. It began on Wednesday from the eastern city of Lahore.

Rizvi had planned to stage a sit-in to force the Pakistani government to sever diplomatic ties with the Netherlands over the contest.

Physical depictions of the prophet are forbidden in Islam and are deeply offensive to Muslims.

In a published statement, Wilders said he would never personally stop his campaign against Islam but the risk to innocents, and of attacks on the Netherlands, stemming from the proposed contest were too great.

“My point about the intolerant nature of Islam has been proved again by this,” he said.

Earlier this week, the Dutch police arrested a 26-year-old man suspected of threatening to attack Wilders over his plan.

In Pakistan, thousands of people demonstrated against the contest. A march was organised by Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik, which also called on Pakistan and other Islamist countries to sever all ties with the Netherlands.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban urged Afghan soldiers on Thursday to attack Dutch troops serving in the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in retaliation for what it called a blasphemous action and a hostile act by the Netherlands against all Muslims. The Afghan Taliban statement was issued shortly before Mr. Wilders cancelled the contest.

In 2005, Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published cartoons of Prophet Mohammad that sparked a wave of protest across the Muslim world and several attempts to kill either its editor or cartoonist Kurt Westergaard.

Ten years later, a pair of Islamists stormed the offices of magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, known for publishing satirical cartoons of the Prophet, and killed 12 people.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte last week defended Wilders’ right to stage the contest, saying it fell within the boundaries of freedom of speech, but stressed that the plan was not a government initiative.

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