ISLAMABAD: Police and paramilitary forces in Pakistan extended their crackdown against lawyers and political activists on Friday, banning rallies and arresting scores of lawyers and different political party workers.
The NWFP government ordered midnight banning public gatherings of more than four people for a month in the province. ‘We have imposed Section 144 in the district on the orders of the provincial interior ministry,’ a district coordination officer, Sahib Zada Anis, told reporters in Peshawar. According to the reports ‘More than 100 party leaders and workers were arrested in the province and House raids have increased to arrest party leaders and activists,’ said Arshad Qureshi, PML-N spokesman in the province.
In Multan, police said they had filed complaints against 150 lawyers for defying a ban on rallies, but made no arrests. Multan bar association president Mehmood Ashraf Khan said lawyers had been forced to abandon their original plans after the government crackdown and would instead march to Islamabad from their home cities. ‘We are calling off our march for the moment and going back but will try to reach Islamabad by other routes and appeal to all Pakistanis to reach Islamabad in groups or as individuals by any possible means,’ he told reporters. Some 800 activists were detained in Punjab, an official said, while dozens more were held in Peshawar, the main city in the northwest.
There are hopes for betterment because Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is pushing, President Zardari to yield ground to opposition demands, according to a presidential aide, speaking to Reuters said on condition of anonymity. President Zardari has refused to reinstate desposed Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Ch. but the presidential aide said under the proposed compromise a constitutional court and an appellate court would be set up and the deposed chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry would head one.
The government on Thursday could not stop the long march as lawyers and opposition activists kicked off their protest from Quetta and Karachi simultaneously while in the Sindh capital the police baton-charged the marchers and arrested them. Despite threats from the government, Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Ali Ahmed Kurd led the long march from Quetta. Over 500 lawyers and workers of different political parties started from the District Courts at 12:00 pm. “Our long march will be peaceful, and it will culminate in sit-in on the Constitution Avenue,” vowed Ali Ahmed Kurd while delivering a speech at the start of the long march in his traditional revolutionary style.
About 1,200 personnel of Rangers are already in Islamabad for the security purpose, while sensitive areas like the Constitution Avenue, the Diplomatic Enclave, parliament, the Supreme Court and others would be heavily guarded. Sources said the government had decided to deploy paramilitary forces in the federal capital as part of its security plan to ensure foolproof security during the long march. They said 111 Brigade Commander Brigadier Fahim had met with Islamabad Chief Commissioner Kamran Lashari and discussed the security arrangements.