Pakistan's main opposition leader Nawaz Sharif along with his brother Shahbaz was placed under house arrest on the eve of a major anti-government sit-in outside Parliament on Sunday in Islamabad, plunging the country into a deeper political turmoil.
The government also issued orders for the detention of Jamaat-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed and cricket-turned- politician Imran Khan, the leader of Tehrik-e-Insaf party, both of whom are in hiding, local media reports said. The two-time former Premier and PML-N chief Sharif was detained at his home at Model Town in Lahore while his brother Shahbaz, former Punjab Chief Minister, was held at the home of party leader Chaudhry Tanveer Khan in Rawalpindi.
TV channels reported that orders for house arrest had been served on both leaders. Sources were quoted by the channels as saying that the detention orders were issued under the Maintenance of Public Order law, restricting the movements of the PML-N leaders for three days. The capital was on the edge as a defiant PML-N asserted it would move along with lawyers and activists, whose 'long march' is set to culminate with a sit-in outside Parliament tomorrow.
The protesters are demanding reinstatement of judges sacked in 2007 by then president Pervez Musharraf. Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik, however, claimed no orders had been issued for putting the Sharif brothers under house arrest. Malik also claimed that there were no restrictions on the movement of the Sharif brothers. But PML-N spokesman Ahsan Iqbal said no one in Pakistan could believe Malik's comments. "We will defy the detention orders because we think those are illegal orders," he told reporters.
Tensions mounted as hundreds of PML-N workers, shouting slogans and waving party flags, gathered outside Sharif's home in Lahore and PML-N leader Chaudhry Tanveer Khan's house in Rawalpindi where Shahbaz had gone after driving to the garrison city this morning. Despite an announcement by the ruling PPP that it would file a review petition challenging the Supreme Court's order barring Sharif brothers from electoral politics, the PML-N chief told his supporters on Saturday night that he might be detained to stop him from joining the long march. "I may be arrested or put under house arrest. But you should try to reach Islamabad," Nawaz Sharif told hundreds of supporters in Lahore last night.
Shahbaz earlier said the PML-N had not been formally informed by the government about the move to file the review petition in the apex court and the nationwide protest wouldcontinue. The lawyers' movement and opposition parties like the PML-N and Jamaat-e-Islami had launched the long march on March12.
Interior Ministry chief Malik said that the sit-in will not be allowed due to security concerns. He said there were fears of bomb attacks, include suicide bombings, duringthe protest. Earlier on Sunday morning, police arrested over 20 PML-N activists who had gathered at a camp set up outside the Sharif's residence at Model Town in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province.
There were also reports of clashes between the PML-N workers and police. Saeed Elahi of PML-N, who held talks with police, said authorities had asked Nawaz Sharif to put off his plan of joining the long march. PML-N leaders said police had claimed suicide attackers had entered Lahore and could target theformer premier. Police also put under house arrest several other senior PML-N leaders, including Senator Ishaq Dar, parliamentarian Saad Rafiq and Zulfikar Khosa, the chief of the party's unit in Lahore.
In Rawalpindi, police raided the high court premises and arrested over 100 lawyers who had gathered there to leave for Islamabad today. The policemen beat the lawyers and locked the main gate of the high court building. Imran Khan's home in Islamabad was also raided by dozens of policemen, who locked and sealed it, reports said.