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Protests continue on Sharif ban

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Protesters clash with police in Rawalpindi

Protests against a court decision to ban Pakistan's ex-PM Nawaz Sharif and his brother from elected office have entered a third day.

In Karachi and Lahore, lawyers boycotted court proceedings to express solidarity with the Sharifs.

Authorities have filed cases against 300 leaders and activists of the Sharifs' PML-N party over the protests.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has held a cabinet meeting to discuss the worsening political situation.

Mr Sharif accuses President Asif Ali Zardari of influencing Wednesday's Supreme Court decision in order to remove him from politics, raising fears of renewed political turmoil.

The Supreme Court upheld an earlier ban on Mr Sharif and his brother, Shahbaz, from elected office.

Mr Sharif's PML-N holds power in Punjab province, where his brother was chief minister but has now been ordered to step down.

The court order has deepened the rift between the Sharifs and the federal government led by the Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

Clashes

About 100 protesters tried to block the main highway into the capital, Islamabad, on Friday by placing bricks and rocks on the road.

Sharif: "There is a turmoil in the country"

Police confronted the protesters and fired several rounds of tear gas shells, forcing the crowd to disperse. About 25 protesters were rounded up into vans.

Hundreds protested in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, burning tyres, blocking roads and shouting slogans.

"PML-N spokesman Siddiqul Farooq told the AFP news agency: "Our protest is continuing. People will hold protests after Friday prayers across the country."

In Punjab province, the stronghold of the Sharifs, paramilitary troops have been put on high alert.

Meanwhile, police have filed complaints against hundreds of PML-N workers in connection with Thursday's protests.

Incidents of violence were reported from all over Punjab province and there were smaller anti-government protests in Islamabad too.

Thousands of protesters, waving the green flags of the PML-N, burned tyres in the many demonstrations.

The most serious clashes took place on the outskirts of the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

Protesters attacked banks and shops, set vehicles alight and blocked roads.

Police baton charged the demonstrators and lobbed tear gas shells. Crowds pelted security forces with stones.

'Let down'

Nawaz Sharif has urged his supporters not to break the law or wreck public property.

Supporters of former premier Nawaz Sharif shout slogans as they gather in front of burning vehicles during a protest in Islamabad on February 26, 2009

He said he had been "let down" by Mr Zardari, who he had forged an alliance with to win elections a year ago.

President Zardari has dismissed the Punjab government and given control to the governor who is one of his loyalists.

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says there are fears of a return to the see-saw political turmoil between the PPP and PML-N of the 1990s.

He says the government may try to contain protests through administrative measures and mobilising PPP workers.

But the "long march" protest planned by the Sharifs in the next two weeks could lead to violent confrontation and further instability, he says.

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