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GUJRANWALA, May 20 An Anti-Terrorism Court acquitted four activists of a banned religious outfit of murder of former Gujranwala SSP Muhammad Ashraf Marth and his driver after prosecution witnesses retracted their statements.

Judge Rana Nasir Ahmad announced the verdict here on Thursday.

The SSP along with his driver, constable Shamim Ahmad, was gunned down near his residence when he was on the way to his office on May 6, 1997, in Civil Lines police station limits.

Police had booked former head of the banned Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) Azam Tariq, Riaz Basra, Sanaullah, Ghulam Rasool Shah, Abdul Haq, Abu Bakar and Uzair alias Usman alias Chouta for the killings.

The police told the court accused Azam Tariq, Sanaullah and Riaz Basra had been killed in various acts of terrorism or in police encounters. Prosecution presented Uzair, Abu Bakar, Abdul Haq and Ghulam Rasool Shah before the court after their arrest.

On May 21, 2000, the Anti Terrorism Court awarded death sentence to Abu Bakar and Ghulam Rasool Shah.

The convicts filed appeals against the verdict in the Supreme Court which rem- anded the case to the ATC for review of the verdict.

During the trial, prosecution witnes ASI Muhammad Akram, Muhammad Hameed and Hanif retracted their statements while the court acquitted all the four accused, giving them the benefit of the doubt.

PROTEST A large number of employees of the highways and building departments have protested against the Punjab government's decision of changing the status of both departments as company.

They staged rallies and blocked GT Road near Gondlanwala Chowk here on Thursday. The protesters, led by PWO Chairman Malik Muhammad Iftikhar, marched from Sheikhupura Mor to Gondlanwala Chowk where they staged a sit-in and blocked the road for several hours.

Malik Iftikhar and others said the decision of the government would render at least 35,000 employees jobless, including some 3,000 in the Gujranwala region.

They said the highways and building departments were not the property of the rulers of Punjab. Earlier, Mutahidda Action Committee leaders declared the policies of the Punjab government wrong.

ARRESTED The police on Thursday claimed to have arrested the accused involved in the murder of a teenaged girl in Rajkot locality on May 11.

SP Awais Malik told reporters that Razia Bibi, 16, a matric student, had been murdered when she was alone in her house. Heirs of the deceased strongly protested against the murder and blocked the road.

During investigation, the SP said the police arrested accused Arshad alias Bagi, a cousin of the deceased girl, who confessed to his crime.

He said the accused murdered the girl when she refused to develop relations with him. The SP said the accused was already wanted in some heinous crime.