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Dutch lawmaker cancels cartoon contest amid strong Pakistan protests

Dutch far-right lawmaker Geert Wilders has cancelled a planned contest calling for cartoon caricatures of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad amid mass protests against the event in Pakistan.

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AMSTERDAM, Netherlands, ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: Dutch far-right lawmaker Geert Wilders has cancelled a planned contest calling for cartoon caricatures of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad amid mass protests against the event in Pakistan.

Wilders, who had received death threats over his plans, said late on August 30 that he decided to cancel the event to “avoid making people victims of Islamist violence.”

Read also: Pakistan no longer ‘darling’ of West: Foreign minister Qureshi

“People’s safety is more important,” Wilders, 54, wrote on Facebook.

Physical depictions of Allah or the prophet, even positive ones, are considered blasphemous under Islam and are forbidden. In Pakistan, such blasphemy is punishable by death and the mere accusation of it can cause lynchings.

Wilders said that strong opponents “see not only me, but the entire Netherlands as a target.” The organizers of street protests in Pakistan had called on Islamabad to break off diplomatic relations with the Netherlands over the event.

The lawmaker canceled the contest even as an estimated 10,000 Pakistanis continued their march from the eastern city of Lahore to Islamabad to protest the event. The protests were sponsored by Pakistan’s Tehreek-i-Labaik Islamist political party.

Pakistan deployed thousands of troops to protect a diplomatic enclave in the capital on August 30 as angry protesters approached Islamabad.

Supporters of Khadim Hussain Rizvi, head of the Islamist political party Tehreek-i-Labaik, have joined a march to Islamabad prompted by Geert Wilders contest.

Supporters of Khadim Hussain Rizvi, head of the Islamist political party Tehreek-i-Labaik, have joined a march to Islamabad prompted by Geert Wilders contest. PHOTO: RAHAT DAR

The thousands of police and paramilitary troops that were already guarding the highly fortified enclave in the capital that houses embassies were reinforced with around 700 troops, a police official said.

Before demonstrators arrived in Islamabad, they were briefly halted by police in the town of Jhelum. But when protesters threatened to resist police in a way that could have led to violence, authorities relented and allowed them to proceed, AP reported.

“We are on roads to show to the world that we can die to protect the honor of our Prophet,” Labaik party leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi told the crowd.

Taliban Urge Attacks On Dutch Troops

Reuters reported that hours before Wilders cancelled the cartoon contest, the Afghan Taliban urged Afghan soldiers to attack Dutch troops serving in the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

In a statement, the Taliban’s main spokesman called the planned contest “blasphemous” and a “hostile act” by the Netherlands against all Muslims.

Members of the Afghan security forces, “if they truly believe themselves to be Muslims or have any covenant towards Islam, should turn their weapons on Dutch troops” or help Taliban fighters attack them, the statement said.

Around 100 Dutch troops are serving in the 16,000-strong NATO Resolute Support mission to train and advise Afghan forces, according to the Dutch Defense Ministry.

The controversy over Wilders’ now-cancelled cartoon contest echoed a controversy over Muhammad cartoons in 2005, when the publication of pictures of the prophet in a Danish newspaper led to protests and violence in many Muslim countries.

On August 30, a 26-year-old man of Pakistani descent who had threatened on Facebook to attack Wilders was remanded in custody by a judge in the Dutch capital, The Hague. He is accused of preparing to commit a murder and inciting with terrorist intent, among other crimes.

The Dutch government had been at pains to distance itself from the contest.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte last week questioned Wilders’ motive for organizing the competition.

“His aim is not to have a debate about Islam. His aim is to be provocative,” the prime minister said.

Read also: Kabaddi team wins first Asian Games medal for Pakistan

However, Rutte added that people in the Netherlands have far-reaching freedom-of-speech rights and the government did not intend to seek the contest’s cancellation.

The anger sparked by Wilders’ plans in Pakistan had prompted the Netherlands to caution citizens about travelling there and to postpone a planned trade mission to the South Asian country.

Pakistan News

Maryam’s interview “stopped forcefully:” Nadeem Malik

An interview of Maryam Nawaz Sharif, a vice president of the PML-N, was “forcefully” taken off air soon after it was run, it was reported on Thursday.

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: An interview of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif was taken off air forcefully seconds after it started.

“Just came to know Maryam Nawaz Sharif’s interview has been stopped forcefully just [a] few minutes after it started live,” tweeted show host Nadeem Malik.

Hum News, the channel on which the interview was aired for a few brief moments, released a statement shortly after the incident, saying: “Hum News believes in a free and responsible media. Protecting freedom of expression is one of our core values. At the same time, we stand for the respect and dignity of [the] judiciary in line with our ethical values and the Constitution.”

The development comes days after AbbTakk TV24 News, and Capital TV all had their broadcasts cut after screening a press conference by Maryam Nawaz.

Authorities say the three channels were unavailable due to “technical issues”, but Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a global media watchdog, described the outage as an act of “brazen censorship”.

It slammed the local authorities over the removal of three television channels from the country’s airwaves, saying the move was “indicative of disturbing dictatorial tendencies” as pressure mounts on journalists in Pakistan.

READ MORE: Arrest me if you want to, I won’t run away like your master Musharraf: Hamid Mir

Maryam is the daughter of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif — who is currently behind bars for corruption — and a recent press conference she hosted featured a judge reportedly claiming he had been blackmailed into convicting the former premier.

The move came as Prime Minister Imran Khan’s administration vowed to block any media coverage and interviews of politicians “who are convicts and under trial”.

Earlier this month, Geo News TV abruptly took an interview with former president Asif Ali Zardari off air shortly after it began.

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Several dead and dozens injured in Pakistan train collision

A collision between a passenger train and a stationary freight train near the central town of Rahim Yar Khan in Pakistan has killed at least 10 people, with more than 70 others injured, according to police and hospital officials.

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RAHIM YAR KHAN, Pakistan: A collision between a passenger train and a stationary freight train near the central town of Rahim Yar Khan in Pakistan has killed at least 10 people, with more than 70 others injured, according to police and hospital officials.

The incident on Thursday took place at the Walhar railway station, located about 35km south of Rahim Yar Khan.

“The Akbar Express [passenger train] going from Bahawalpur to Quetta hit a freight train that was parked there at 7.40am,” a local police official told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to media.

Senior police official Umar Salamat told local media the collision took place because the passenger train was diverted onto the incorrect track at the station, hitting the parked freight train.

Rescue operations were under way at the collision site, with workers using equipment to get to some of those trapped in the train wreckage, local media reported.

The injured were taken to a nearby government hospital and to a more advanced facility in Rahim Yar Khan, hospital officials said.

Nine of the dead were taken to the government hospital, with more than 60 people injured in the wreck also treated there, Liaquat Chohan, a senior hospital official, told Al Jazeera.

“The injuries were of multiple types – many had fractures, others had bleeding wounds. Some were crushed under objects,” he said.

At least one dead body was also taken to the Sheikh Zayed hospital in Rahim Yar Khan, where 11 of those wounded in the accident were being treated, hospital official Ilyas Ahmer told Al Jazeera.

“One person’s leg was cut off [in the collision], and another is having serious chest surgery,” he said.

‘Emergency steps’

Pakistan’s aging railway network carries both passengers and goods across the country, but suffers periodic derailments and other accidents due to aging infrastructure.

A major Chinese investment in the country is seeking to upgrade the main railway line that connects the length of the country, raising speeds and safety standards.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed his condolences for those who were killed and injured, and ordered Railways Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad to speed up work on the country’s rail infrastructure.

“Have asked Railways Minister to take emergency steps to counter decades of neglect of railway infrastructure & ensure safety standards,” Khan tweeted after the accident.

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Pakistan News

Russia denies inviting Imran Khan to Eastern Economic Forum

Russia has conveyed to India that it has not invited Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok in September.

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan/MOSCOW, Russia: Russia has denied inviting Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) to be held in eastern Russian city of Vladivostok in September.

“We draw attention to the publications in a number of South Asian media that the Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan Imran Khan was invited to the events of the Eastern Economic Forum (WEF-5) in Vladivostok (September 4-6, this year) as the guest of honor. We would like to give some explanations in this regard… We expect that the President of Mongolia H. Battulga, Prime Minister of India N.Modi, Prime Minister of Malaysia M. Mohammad and the Prime Minister ofJapan S. Abe will arrive in the capital of Primorye,” stated Russian Foreign Ministry.

Pakistan Foreign Office (FO) spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal on Tuesday also termed reports regarding Prime Minister Imran Khan’s participation in the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in Russia as “speculative”.

Taking to Twitter, Dr Faisal said Pakistan and Russia remain in contact about engagement at the highest level.

“Any announcement in this regard would be made formally at [the] appropriate time,” he wrote.

Sources in the FO earlier told Pakistani media outlets that Prime Minister Imran Khan would join the EEF meeting in Russia on the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The invitation was extended by President Putin during the recently-held Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting that both leaders had attended, the sources had said.

Following the reports, however, Indian media outlets quoted diplomatic sources as saying that the Russian foreign ministry had dismissed reports that PM Imran had been invited for the forum in September, where The Economic Times said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be the chief guest.

It was not clear whether the FO spokesperson was terming the reports in the Indian media as speculative or those published by the Pakistani media, or both.

His statement comes as Prime Minister Imran is scheduled to meet US President Donald Trump on July 22 during an official working visit to Washington.

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