Pakistani police arrest scores of activists in attempt to block anti-US rally
By Afzal Nadeem, Associated Press, 10/22/01
KARACHI, Pakistan -- Police moved to block a major anti-U.S. demonstration, barring the head of Pakistan's largest Islamic party from traveling to the protest site Monday and arresting several hundred militants.
Angry after police stopped him at the Lahore airport from boarding a flight to Jacobabad, Qazi Hussain Ahmed of the Jamaat-e-Islam party told reporters that "the days of this government are numbered."
Ahmed's party said more than 1,000 of its members had been arrested since Sunday. Police put the number at 240.
Pakistan, an ally in the U.S.-led military campaign in neighboring Afghanistan, has cracked down on protests by Islamic militants since shortly before the U.S. airstrikes started.
Monday's moves were aimed at defusing a rally called for Tuesday at Pakistan's air base at the southern city Jacobabad. Islamic activists charge Americans are using the base for attacks in Afghanistan.
President Pervez Musharraf's government insists Pakistan is lending only logistical support to the campaign.
Ahmed arrived at Lahore's international airport backed by a chanting, angry throng of hundreds of his supporters. Police presented him with a written government order forbidding him to fly to Jacobabad, senior police official Aslam Sahi told The Associated Press.
The Islamic leader declared he would challenge the government move in court -- and issued a vague but angry warning.
"The days of this government are numbered, and Musharraf will no longer be in power after a few days," he told reporters. He declined to elaborate.
Police in Sindh province, where Jacobabad is located, have arrested at least 1,100 supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami since Sunday, party spokesman Sarfrez Ahmed said in Karachi. Police have also sealed the party offices in Jacobabad.
The government called those claims exaggerated. "Only 240 people who were inciting people for violence have been arrested," said Mukhtar Ahmed, the province's home secretary.
Other activists have gone into hiding, determined to avoid arrest until they make it to Jacobabad for the protest, the party said.
Jacobabad saw running street battles between Islamic militants and police on Oct. 14, with at least one protester killed as mobs fought to reach the air base.
Hundreds of activists were arrested ahead of that rally as well, and most were released afterward. Three leading Islamic clerics were put under house arrest at the start of the military campaign in another pre-emptive move to block opposition.