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Pakistan bans protests ahead of major rally

Pakistan bans protests ahead of major rally

Pakistan banned protests in its largest province and opposition parties claimed their members were being arrested Wednesday ahead of planned rallies threatening to batter the already-shaky rule of its pro-Western government.
The political crisis comes as the nuclear-armed country is grappling to contain surging violence by al-Qaida and the Taliban and fix an economy that remains functioning only due to support from international lenders. It could lead to political meltdown and even some form of intervention by the country's powerful military, which have often seized power in the past following chaotic civilian rule.
The turmoil erupted last month when the Supreme Court banned the head of the largest opposition party, Nawaz Sharif, and his brother, from elected office. They accused President Asif Ali Zardari of engineering the verdict to neutralize them.
They and other opposition parties are now supporting demands by lawyers for Zardari to fulfill a pledge to restore judges fired by former President Pervez Musharraf. The judges are believed likely to be hostile to Zardari and could move to limit his powers.
The protesters have vowed to gather in cities around the country Thursday before leaving for the capital, Islamabad, where they are vowing to stage a sit-in at the parliament building until their demands are met.
In a move seemingly designed to thwart that protest, Rao Iftikhar, the home secretary in the eastern Punjab province, said he had issued orders for a ban on public gatherings there "so that terrorists cannot take any advantage by targeting political gatherings." The ban will remain in force for three months, he said. It gives authorities the right to arrest any protesters.
Punjab is Pakistan's largest province and the political heartland of Sharif.
A spokesman for Sharif's party, Sadiqul Farooq, said he had received reports from party offices across the country that members were being arrested, but that he had no accurate numbers. Munawar Hassan, a leader of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan party, said "nearly two dozen of our supporters have been detained." Authorities were not available for comment.
On Monday, the country's security chief said the protesters were welcome to rally, but urged them not to gather in front of the parliament. He suggested they protest in an empty lot on the outskirts of Islamabad. The protesters insist they are planning a peaceful march.


Updated : 2021-02-26 01:28 GMT+08:00