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Crackdown on protest eve; over 200 held

March 26, 2007

LAHORE, March 25: Over 200 opposition leaders and workers were arrested from different parts of Punjab on Sunday as opposition parties prepared to hold demonstrations in all district towns on Monday as part of their ongoing campaign for what they call independence of the judiciary.

The lawyers will boycott courts in accordance with decisions taken by their representative bodies.

Most of the arrests were made in Lahore and Multan. Police confirmed the arrest of 138 ‘small-time’ office-bearers and workers of the ARD and MMA from Lahore. Forty people, including former speaker Fakhar Imam, PML-N MNA Rana Mahmodul Hassan and PPP's ex-minister Mukhtar Awan, were picked up in Multan when ARD leaders and activists gathered at a meeting to discuss Monday's protest plan.

Punjab PPP President Shah Mehmood Qureshi alleged that hundreds of his party workers had been arrested. The arrests had also been made in Rawalpindi, Dera Ghazi Khan, Gujranwala, Sahiwal, Okara, Vehari, Sheikhupura and several other cities, he said.

Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, on the other hand, denied that any opposition leader or worker had been arrested. Talking to Dawn, he said he had received information that former federal ministers Fakhr Imam and Begum Abida Husain had been arrested, after which he immediately ordered the police to release the couple and escort them to their residence in Multan.

He said a ban on rallies had been lifted for a few days and the opposition parties and lawyers had been given a free hand for their rallies across the province. However, he warned, anybody who tried to take the law into his own hands would not be spared.

Parties in the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf and Awami National Party will take part in a march from Nila Gumbad to the Lahore High Court.

The lawyers, apprehensive that a joint struggle with opposition parties may be hijacked or radicalised by vested interests, will receive the protesting political leaders at the Lahore High Court building's main gate.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that he had directed PPP activists to go underground and stay away from their residences to be able to turn up at Nila Gumbad.

He said the opposition wanted to hold a peaceful rally but the government was trying to make it violent.

Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi alleged that opposition parties were not in a position to launch a movement but to cover up their weaknesses they were alleging that their workers were being arrested. "We don't have to arrest anybody."

The Punjab PPP president said when the ruling party planned to hold pro-Musharraf rallies, there was no justification for them to prevent the opposition.

A PML-N press release said the police raided the party's Lahore office, arrested some workers and took away the records.

Incarcerated PML-N leader Javed Hashmi said in a statement that he would be observing a token hunger strike from Monday onwards to express solidarity with the lawyers in their struggle for the independence of the judiciary.