Pakistan Town Closed Down to Foil Anti-US Demo
Pakistani authorities sealed off the town of Jacobabad on Tuesday to prevent an attempt by Islamic radicals to lay siege to an airbase being used by US forces.
Trees and trucks were used to block roads into the Sindh province city and at least 3,000 security forces were brought in to stop attempts by the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) party to demonstrate outside the base.
Shops were closed and paramilitary forces and police patrolled the streets.
Hundreds of paramilitaries and soldiers were also on duty around Jacobabad air base where US forces have support facilities for the military campaign against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the al-Qaeda network of accused terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
The rally is one of several called by opposition parties to challenge the government's support for the US action.
At least one person was killed and 20 injured during clashes here last week between security forces and opponents of US air strikes on Afghanistan.
Jacobabad deputy police inspector Fayaz Leghari told AFP: "We have taken all preventive measures to foil the JI protest in the city." He said more than 150 activists were taken into custody on Monday and would be released again late Tuesday.
The provincial authorities banned the leader of the JI, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, from entering Sindh. Hussain was prevented from flying to Jacobabad from Lahore on Monday and Leghari said police were looking out for him on roads.
Sindh home secretary Brigadier Mukhtar Sheikh warned that any demonstrators using violence or trying to march on the airbase would be harshly dealt with.
"We have beefed up security and no one will be allowed to take the law into his own hands," he said.
Jacobabad air base is one of four in southern Pakistan that are being used by US forces for support operations linked to the US campaign in Afghanistan. Jacobabad was closed to civil aviation shortly after permission was given to US forces to move in.
The government insists the air bases are not being used to mount offensive action against the neighbouring state.
But Islamic militants have threatened to attack the air bases.
"We will fufill our commitment with the Afghan brethren and will never allow the US to use our land for killing innocent Afghans," senior JI official Munawar Hasan said.
Although there have been a number of violent demonstrations against the US attacks, they have been largely confined to the minority religious parties or Afghan refugee communities.
The arrest of hundreds, possibly thousands, of militants across the country has helped President Pervez Musharraf keep the lid on protests.
The government says a majority of Pakistanis back his handling of the crisis triggered by the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
But on Saturday a "million march" has been called by the opposition in Karachi which could be a bigger test of the government's ability to restrict demonstrations -- Jacobabad, Pakistan, (AFP)
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