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The BBC's Owen Bennett Jones in Islamabad
"Nawaz Sharif can only hope that the military's policy of detention will backfire"
 real 28k

Raja Zaffar Ulhaz, Muslim League
"A brutal and wholly undemocratic act by the government"
 real 28k

Friday, 7 July, 2000, 12:03 GMT 13:03 UK
Mass arrest of Sharif supporters
Kulsoom Nawaz
Kulsoom Nawaz (right): Defying a ban on public rallies
Police in the Pakistani city of Lahore have arrested a large number of supporters of the ousted Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, in pre-dawn raids.

Police said they were acting on the orders of the Punjab provincial government, which has vowed to prevent Mr Sharif's wife, Kulsoom Nawaz, from leading a procession from Lahore to Peshawar on Saturday.

Dozens of Pakistan Muslim League (PML) leaders and activists were locked up by the police, as others went into hiding.



Police came to my house, picked me up and threw me in the lock-up

PML activist Sheikh Majeed
Officials said about 165 PML members had been arrested; PML leaders said as many as 300 had been detained. They reportedly include Ahwaja Ahsan, the former lord mayor of Lahore.

"Police came to my house, picked me up and threw me in the lock-up," said one PML activist, Sheikh Majeed, quoted by the French AFP news agency.

"I don't know what the charges are and I'm not wanted for any criminal activity," he added.

The Punjab Governor, Mohammad Safdar, has vowed to stop Kulsoom's planned rally, in line with a ban on public political gatherings imposed by the military authorities.

"Under the law, you can hold a meeting within four walls but not rallies, as planned by her," he said.

Kulsoom defiant

Sources close to Kulsoom said she was aware of the crackdown, but was determined to go ahead with the planned procession of vehicles on Saturday.

Nawaz Sharif
Nawaz Sharif is on trial for alleged tax evasion
Kulsoom said the aim of the motorcade was to raise money for people in the drought-hit provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan.

The BBC's Islamabad correspondent, Owen Bennett-Jones, says that so far there have been no significant street protests opposing the military authorities.

But by detaining so many PML activists in Lahore the authorities have signalled their determination to prevent such any protests getting under way, he says.

Kulsoom's public profile has grown since Mr Sharif was toppled in the October military coup and subsequently jailed for terrorism and hijacking.

In May, she led a motorcade to celebrate the second anniversary of Pakistan's nuclear tests.

Kulsoom's outspoken criticism of the military authorities has drawn angry attacks from the government and alienated some sections of the PML.

She has complained that many elements in the PML have not supported her, but rather have opted for a policy of non-confrontation with the army.

Mr Sharif is currently on trial for alleged tax evasion in connection with a private helicopter purchase. He faces 14 years in prison if found guilty.

He has already been given a life sentence for terrorism and hijacking, in a separate trial.

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See also:

06 Jul 00 | South Asia
Sharif's former colleague testifies
04 Jul 00 | South Asia
Sharif denies party rift
02 Jun 00 | South Asia
Sharif charged with corruption
25 May 00 | South Asia
Blow for Sharif lawyers
07 Jul 00 | South Asia
Muslim League: Signs of rift
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