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Religious parties defy Musharraf's ban on rallies

Muhammad Najeeb in Islamabad

Unfazed by the arrests of a number of right-wing leaders protesting against Pakistan's support to the United States-led strikes in Afghanistan, religious parties on Thursday vowed to defy the government ban on rallies.

"We will hold rallies on Friday and observe a wheel-jam strike (next week) according to a schedule given earlier," Jamaat-e-Islami deputy chief Liaqat Baloch told Indo-Asian News Service over telephone.

He said a number of Jamaat leaders were picked up by the police late Wednesday and Thursday morning. "But we would continue to hold rallies until the government changes its decision and the strikes on Afghanistan are stopped."

The Jamaat had also announced a countrywide vehicular strike on November 9 to denounce Pakistan's support to the US. The party claimed that it had the support of several national and regional parties.

"It is a baseless propaganda that only religious elements were holding the protests," Baloch said. "The people are on one side and President Pervez Musharraf is on the other."

He said most Jamaat leader had gone underground fearing arrests. "But we will continue to guide our workers." He said chief Qazi Hussain Ahmad had given instructions to his deputies to run the party affairs if the top command was arrested.

Reports said several opposition leaders, including the acting president of Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League, Javed Hashmi, were arrested. Hashmi was picked up after midnight on Wednesday from Sharif's Islamabad residence.

A PML spokesman said around 30 policemen raided the house at around 1:30 am and arrested Hashmi.

Reports said veteran politician and chief of Alliance for Restoration of Democracy Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan was also arrested from his Lahore residence.

"A few people came to our house early (Thursday) morning and asked Nawabzada sahib to go with them," his nephew Majid said. He was of the view that those people were from some law-enforcing agency and "they told me that they would take Nawabzada sahib to his village in Muzaffargarh. It is not clear if they have taken him to the village or some other place."

Khan was scheduled to lead a protest rally in Lahore on Friday.

Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam said several of their mainstream leaders were arrested.

Its central leader Syed Jehanzeb Pirzada said they would continue holding demonstrations in major cities on every Friday.

Pirzada said party chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman was already under house arrest while several leaders were picked up on Thursday morning. He said the party had already announced the schedule for countrywide protests and would continue according to it.

Indo-Asian News Service

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