Pakistani Authorities Crack Down Before Anti-US Rallies
Pakistani authorities on Friday launched a series of security measures aimed at preventing a repeat of violent anti-US rallies by Islamic radicals on the Muslim holy day.
Police sources told AFP they had blocked all roads leading into the western city of Peshawar, the site of previous rallies that have attracted thousands of angry demonstrators opposed to the US bombing of Afghanistan.
Authorities also banned three radical Islamic leaders from entering Sind province, where major anti-US rallies have also been staged, for 30 days.
However rally organisers said demonstrators were still gathering in cities across the country on Friday, and they intended to march following afternoon prayers.
Last Friday tens of thousands of Islamic demonstrators rampaged through Pakistan's biggest city, Karachi, shooting and throwing stones at police as anger over the US attacks against Afghanistan's Taliban regime exploded into violence.
Although no-one died in Karachi, six people were taken to hospital suffering bullet wounds and a paramilitary soldier was killed in another demonstration in the northwestern town of Sakha Kot.
Pakistani Interior Secretary Tasneem Noorani said elaborate security arrangements had been put in place to prevent a repeat of last week's violence.
"The provinces have been directed to arrest those who try to disrupt public peace and order," Noorani told AFP.
"If these protesters remain peaceful we will not crackdown on them. They will be picked up only if they disrupt law and order."
In Peshawar, the chief of the hardline Islamic Jamaat-i-Islami party (JI), Qazi Hussain Ahmed, was expected to lead a rally attended by members of all religious parties, including the even more extreme Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI).
The head of the JUI, Fazlur Rehman, was on Wednesday charged with treason in his home town of Dera Ismail Khan, where he had been under house arrest for over a week.
Rehman is one of the leading figures opposing Pakistan's support for the US air strikes and the JUI has close links to the Taliban.
Rehman and JI chief Ahmed were two of the three Islamic radical leaders banned on Friday from entering Sindh province for the next 30 days.
The leader of sectarian militant group Sipah-e-Sahaba, Azam Tariq, was the third leader banned from Sindh despite he too being under house arrest.
Sindh has been the focus of a series of rallies because the Jacobabad airfield there is being used by the United States in its military campaign on Afghanistan.
Provincial Home Secretary Brigadier Mukhtar Sheikh told AFP that the three leaders "have been banned (from Sindh) for 30 days as their presence here can create law and order problems."
One person was killed and 24 people injured during clashes between police and protestors on Sunday, when Islamic extremists tried to march to the Jacobabad airfield.
Despite the arrest and ban on their leader, the JUI said there would be demonstrations in Jacobabad after Friday prayers, which will be addressed by the leaders of religious parties.
JI also condemned the ban on its chief and vowed to defy the restrictions on protests. "We don't accept such a ban and our party and Qazi Hussain Ahmed will defy the ban," Asadullah Bhutto, the head of JI in Sindh, said -- Islamabad, (AFP)
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