ISLAMABAD, Oct 7: Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Sherpao has said that a complete ban has been imposed on religious gatherings throughout the country.

Speaking at a press conference at the interior ministry here on Thursday, the minister said the decision was taken at a high-level meeting presided over by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. The meeting was convened against the backdrop of the Multan car bomb blast.

He said except for Friday prayers and Taravih congregations in the month of Ramazan, all religious gatherings would be banned. Responding to a question, Mr Sherpao said the provincial governments had been advised to enforce the decision and no religious organization should be allowed to hold any meeting.

"It should be the responsibility of provinces to maintain law and order and utilize all their efforts to curb terrorism and sectarianism," he said. Replying to a question, he said the possibility of the Multan blast being an act of sectarian terrorism could not be ruled out.

The provincial governments, he said, had also been directed to monitor the activities of workers of banned religious organizations by implementing the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2001, in letter and spirit.

Mr Sherpao said any attempt to disrupt sectarian harmony would not be allowed and the government was determined to deal sternly with elements who might try to stir trouble.

Referring to his telephonic conversation with chief ministers and leaders of various political parties, the interior minister said all leaders had condemned the incident and endorsed the government decision to ban religious congregations.

He said there would be no ban on political gatherings but prior permission from the authorities would be necessary even for such meetings. The minister said it should be the responsibility of the district governments to inform their provincial governments before giving permission for such gatherings and the provinces should take guidance from the federal government so that decisions could be taken in the national interest.

"These instructions should be taken into consideration as the federal government does have a full view of the situation before it and the provincial authorities might not have the full view of the situation," he said.

"We need to have a collaborated and joint approach to deal with such sensitive situations," he said. Responding to a question about investigation into the incident, the minister said the engine number of the car used in the blast had been traced and further investigations were under way.

He said the Millat-i-Islamia Pakistan was a banned organization and it formerly functioned as Sippah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). Answering a question about the arrests being made in different parts of the country in the wake of the Sialkot blast and other incidents, the interior minister said those who had been found involved in terrorist activities in the past were being arrested. However, he said, revealing the identity of those arrested at this stage might harm the investigation process.

COMPENSATION: The minister said the government had announced a compensation of Rs500,000 for those died in the Multan blast, while Rs50,000 for those who sustained injuries.

"Half of the compensation amount would be given by the federal government and the remaining would be paid by the Punjab government," he said. The minister said that troops had been called out in Multan following the blast. "Troops have been deployed on the request of the district government to maintain law and order."

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