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Page last updated at 10:51 GMT, Saturday, 14 March 2009

Pakistan minister quits over ban

Sherry Rehman, May 2003
Ms Rehman had vowed to resign if any ban was imposed on the media

Pakistan's information minister has resigned in the wake of a growing clampdown by the government on protests by lawyers and opposition groups.

Sherry Rehman tendered her resignation after a cabinet meeting on Friday night, as leading television station Geo was blocked in major cities.

Police have also arrested several protesters and sealed off city exits amid growing anti-government protests.

Opposition groups are demanding that the president reinstate sacked judges.

Growing unrest

Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif has thrown his weight behind a "long march" that is supposed to converge on the capital, Islamabad, on Monday.

Police-men are deployed at container barricades erected by the authorities in front of President House in Islamabad on March 14, 2009
Container barricades have been set up outside President House in Islamabad

But President Asif Ali Zardari has banned the rallies.

On Saturday, police sealed off city exits to activists trying to march on the capital and stopped one of Pakistan's most respected lawyers, Ali Ahmed Kurd, from boarding a flight to join the protests in Lahore.

Police also detained a handful of people when about 100 protesting lawyers and supporters of Mr Sharif's party gathered in the central city of Multan.

Shops were shuttered and streets were empty of traffic, as protesters - followed by police vans - streamed towards exit points barricaded with shipping containers to stop them leaving.

Talks offered

Top British and US diplomats have intervened to urge leaders to avoid violence and solve their problems.

After initially threatening to deal with protesters strictly, President Zardari has offered to hold talks with opposition leaders.

But Mr Sharif says he has no faith left in the government.

He has vowed to keep up the demonstrations until the judges are reinstated, in line with a promise made by President Zardari when he took office last year to reverse the actions of former President Pervez Musharraf.

Mr Musharraf removed chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and some 60 other judges in 2007, fearing that he would be declared ineligible to contest a presidential election while in military uniform.

The move triggered a countrywide protest, spearheaded by lawyers, which ultimately forced Mr Musharraf to quit in August 2008.

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