Mourners gather for the funeral prayer of Khadim Hussein Rizvi in Lahore on Saturday. AP
Tens of thousands of mourners attended the funeral of the firebrand cleric and chief of the Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) in the eastern city of Lahore on Saturday, defying a government ban on large public gatherings in the wake of rising COVID-19 cases in the country.
His death came just days after he led a paralysing anti-France rally in Islamabad, threatening to repeat a 2017 blockade that crippled the capital.
No cause of death has been announced for the 54-year-old Rizvi, who died on Thursday after suffering a high fever and difficulties breathing, and no COVID-19 test or autopsy were conducted on the long-time wheelchair user.
People gather to attend funeral services for Khadim Hussain Rizvi at the Minar-e-Pakistan monument. Reuters
Daily coronavirus infections have risen in Pakistan this month, and the government banned big events and meetings as it declared the country was witnessing a "second wave" after a three-month lull in cases.
Official data released on Saturday showed 2,843 people had tested positive for the virus and 42 had died during the last 24 hours - both figures the highest for a day since July.
Despite the coronavirus curbs, tens of thousands turned out to mourn Rizvi, and organisers of the funeral said the government had not told them to limit the gathering.
People gather for the funeral prayer of Khadim Hussain Rizvi in Lahore. AFP
Government officials did not respond to a request for comment about the funeral, which wreaked havoc in Lahore as cellphone services were shut down and major roads blocked for security reasons.
Supporters gather for the funeral prayer of Khadim Hussain Rizvi in Lahore. AFP
A local official, who asked not to be named, said he estimated that close to 200,000 people had attended the event.
The gathering was so large that Rizvi's coffin could not be carried through the crowd to the site set up for the ceremony, and had to be positioned on a nearby bridge for the prayers, a Reuters journalist said.
An activist of TLP carries a poster of Khadim Hussain Rizvi during his funeral ceremony. AFP
Known for his fiery sermons, Rizvi headed the TLP party, which has made denouncing alleged blasphemy its rallying cry and staged several protests in recent years - pressuring the government on a number of issues.
Earlier this month, the cleric led a march joined by thousands of protesters to Islamabad that blocked a main entry road for hours and saw demonstrators clash with police.
The firebrand cleric made his last public appearance at a sit-in staged by thousands of TLP followers at Islamabad's Faizabad interchange to protest the publication of blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) in France.
The group had decided to end the sit-in after successful negotiations with the government.
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