Pakistan bans protests, alerts troops in Punjab province: officials

LAHORE, Pakistan (AFP) — The Pakistani province of Punjab on Tuesday alerted troops and banned protests and rallies ahead of a planned "long march" by lawyers towards the capital Islamabad, officials said.

Lawyers and opposition parties are organising a march from March 12-16 to demand the reinstatement of supreme court chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and other judges sacked by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf.

"Rallies and protests have been banned throughout the Punjab province," a senior home department official told AFP.

"Rangers (paramilitary troops) have been requisitioned to help with the security," the official said on condition of anonymity, adding that "if needed the army would also be called in to maintain calm."

The ban on rallies started late Tuesday in Lahore, Pakistan's second-largest city.

"A ban has been imposed on protests, rallies and display of weapons," commissioner of Lahore Khusro Pervez told AFP.

Opposition parties claimed that dozens of their workers have been arrested in a crackdown late Tuesday, but police and government officials neither confirmed nor denied that any arrests had been made.

"Anyone violating the law and causing damage to the public property will be held accountable under the law," Pervez said.

Opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif vowed to defy the law and asked his supporters to go ahead with the protest despite the ban.

"The government can do whatever it can, but we will all reach Islamabad, come what may," Sharif told reporters here.

He reiterated appeals to the police and administration officials to disobey the government order to break up demonstrations.

"I urge the administration and police not to obey the illegal orders of the government to block the protests," he said.

The Pakistani government Monday threatened Shahbaz's brother, the main opposition leader and ex-premier Nawaz Sharif, with charges of sedition for inciting people to rebellion after a court barred him from public office.

Sharif has made speeches calling on the police not to obey government orders and attacked judges who disqualified him saying he does not recognise the rulings of the supreme court -- the highest in the country.

The politician has joined forces with lawyers who are organising the march, which will go from the southern port city of Karachi to Islamabad via Lahore, the Sharif brothers' stronghold.

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Pakistan bans protests, alerts troops in Punjab province: officials Pakistan bans protests, alerts troops in Punjab province: officials Reviewed by Sarah Peracha on 1:15:00 PM Rating: 5

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