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Pakistan blocks major highways to Islamabad

By Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
March 13, 2009 13:59 IST
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Continuing their tough stance against activists and lawyers, Pakistani authorities on Friday blocked all major highways leading to Islamabad to prevent a protest march demanding reinstatement of sacked judges, from reaching the capital.

Police and paramilitary forces today blocked another group of activists marching from Balochistan's capital Quetta to Sukkur in Sindh and arrested the Supreme Court Bar Association President Ali Ahmed Kurd along with some others.

The police action followed Thursday's incident when authorities arrested dozens of lawyers and political activists when they stopped a motorcade on way to Sukkur from Karachi.

But an undeterred Kurd, who staged a sit-in on Thursday night before his arrest, said, "We have told our supporters to reach Islamabad by other routes in smaller groups."

"We are determined to go ahead with our mass protest outside the National Assembly. The march by lawyers and opposition leaders was to support the reinstatement of sacked judges, but has mushroomed into a wider protest against the government," Kurd said.

Showing no signs of reconciliation despite pressure from the United States, authorities today extended the ban on rallies to all major cities of the North West Frontier Province, including provincial capital Peshawar.

PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif told a local TV channel that the march was not to destabilise the government but to appeal again to President Asif Ali Zardari to reinstate judges sacked during 2007 emergency.

"By resisting the popular will," Sharif charged, Zardari was only shortening his political career. "I don't think he will be able to complete his 5-year tenure," he added.

Before the marchers from Quetta were arrested, they chanted slogans like 'Zardari is a traitor' and 'Down with Zardari'.

Naeem Qureshi, Secretary-General of the Karachi Bar Association, said there is no difference between the present government and a martial law regime.

Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik has warned that authorities will allow protesters to gather in a park close to the capital and has vowed to keep them away from amassing outside Parliament or in Islamabad.

The police also conducted raids on the homes of prominent political leaders and lawyers. The NWFP government had earlier said it would not oppose the protest.

Reports said dozens of people, including leaders and workers of the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Imran Khan's Tehrik-e-Insaf party and Jamaat-e-Islami, were either detained or put under house arrest.

PML-N secretary general Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, a close aide of party chief Nawaz Sharif, went into hiding after police raided his home in Peshawar.

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Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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