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Saturday, 23 March, 2002, 14:40 GMT
Arrests mark Pakistan Day
Soldier in Lahore
The authorities are determined to prevent violence
Pakistani police have rounded up at least a dozen opposition leaders in the eastern city of Lahore in an overnight operation to block an anti-government rally.


I am sure that the government and people agree on... rescuing the country from the scourge of terrorism and sectarianism, at whatever price or cost

President Musharraf

In a massive security operation, police in riot gear also cordoned off the Mochi Gate park where the rally was to be held with barbed wire barricades.

Thousands had been expected at the meeting, organised by the 15-party Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (ARD) to celebrate Pakistan Day.

President Pervez Musharraf delivered a televised address to mark the day, reiterating his pledge to wipe out extremism in the country following renewed sectarian violence and attacks on foreigners.

Security was high across the country ahead of the climax on Monday of the annual 10-day Muharram mourning period for the country's minority Shia Muslims.

Crackdown

President Musharraf has refused to allow large demonstrations since 12 January, when he announced a crackdown on Islamic militants.

General Pervez Musharraf
Musharraf said the country must unite

The government of Punjab had also denied permission for the ARD to hold the Pakistan Day rally, citing a recent upsurge in violence between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

Pakistan Day marks the anniversary of a speech in 1940 in which the first formal demand for a separate Muslim homeland was made.

The public meeting was due to be held at the Mochi Gate park, a traditional venue for anti-government protests.

Authorities had said a meeting could be held at a different venue, but the ARD turned down the offer.

Police then ringed the huge park with barbed wire and flooded the grounds, threatening to arrest anyone who showed up.

The activists taken into custody included the Punjab provincial president of Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party and the secretary-general of the alliance, Iqbal Zaffar Jhagra.

Police also surrounded the house of ARD leader Nawabzada Nasrullah, who was then banned from Lahore district for a month.

Tough speech

In his speech to the nation, General Musharraf asked the people of the country to unite and fight the menace of religious violence and sectarianism in the country.

Soldier guards church after grenade attack
Violence in Pakistan is causing international concern

He said the government was going to revamp the country's law enforcement and intelligence gathering network in its drive to crack down on extremism.

His latest assurance that he is doing his best to improve the law and order situation comes amid growing international concern at recent incidents of violence.

Washington has announced the withdrawal of non-essential staff and family members of US diplomats in Pakistan following the grenade attack on a church last week that killed five people.

US officials have become increasingly concerned about security in Pakistan following the kidnap and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl.

On Saturday, foreign diplomats were advised to avoid cities including Karachi, Rawalpindi and Lahore ahead of Monday's 10th day of Muharram.

Pakistan's minority Shias will take to the streets to mourn the death of Hussain, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad.

Security forces patrolled the streets of all of Pakistan's main cities on Saturday to head off any possible violence.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Zaffar Abbas reports from Islamabad
"President Musharraf is determined to carry on with his fight against sectarian violence"
See also:

20 Mar 02 | South Asia
Grenade attack in Pakistan
18 Mar 02 | South Asia
Pakistan probe into church attack
12 Mar 02 | South Asia
Violence at Shia funeral in Pakistan
08 Mar 02 | South Asia
Pakistan amnesty for Islamic radicals
27 Feb 02 | South Asia
Killings challenge Musharraf's resolve
19 Mar 02 | South Asia
Pakistan's Shia-Sunni divide
14 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Pakistan
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