Pakistan Islamists rally against anti-Islam cartoon contest

Thousands of Islamists in Pakistan launched a march toward the capital today to protest a far-right Dutch lawmaker's plans to hold a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest later this year.

Pakistan's newly elected government has denounced the contest, calling it an attempt to defame Islam. Physical depictions of God or the prophet, even positive ones, are forbidden in Islam and considered deeply offensive.

The protest was organised by Islamist groups that made surprising gains in Pakistan's July elections. An estimated 10,000 protesters took part in the march, chanting "we will die to protect the honour of the prophet." The protesters refused demands from authorities to confine their rally to the eastern city of Lahore, where it began. They are expected to reach Islamabad tomorrow.

The cartoon contest is being organized by Geert Wilders, a far-right Dutch lawmaker with a history of incendiary remarks about Islam. The Dutch government has distanced itself from the event while saying it is committed to free speech.

Pakistan's new prime minister, Imran Khan, has largely sided with the protesters, vowing to take the matter to the United Nations. His government has summoned the Dutch ambassador to lodge a formal protest, but has so far dismissed calls to expel the envoy. Tehreek-i-Labaik, a hard-line Islamist group that helped organise the protests, supported Khan's bid to be prime minister.

Tehreek-i-Labaik disrupted life in Islamabad with a three-week rally last year against an omitted reference to the prophet in a constitutional bill. Organisers say this time they will disperse after a daylong protest.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)