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Sharif defies house arrest, cahos reigns in Pakistan
Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
March 15, 2009 22:03 IST

Pakistan plunged deeper into a political chaos on Sunday night as a defiant Nawaz Sharif [Images] joined by tens of thousands of supporters in Lahore [Images] was headed towards Islamabad [Images] for a mass sit-in front of Parliament on Monday amid reports that a Inspector General of Police of Punjab province's police and several senior officials had resigned and joined his 'long march' for the restoration of the Constitution.

Heading for a showdown with the government, Sharif, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader and a two-time premier, defied his house arrest in Lahore as one of Pakistan's biggest civil disobedience movement unfolded with hundreds of stone-throwing anti-government protesters including lawyers fighting pitched battles with police in the capital of Punjab province. As people poured out into the streets of Lahore in support of the lawyers and opposition party workers, President Asif Ali Zardari [Images] and the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party appeared to be increasingly isolated.

Several government and police officials resigned from their posts and joined the long march, reflecting the popular support for the protest. In Islamabad, Deputy Attorney General Abdul Hai Gilani told reporters he had quit his post to protest the torture of lawyers, locking up of the High Court and police actionagainst protestors. In Lahore, reports said District Coordination Officer Sajjad Bhutta, IGP Khalid Farooq, DIG (Operations) Amjad Saleemi too had resigned after being told by their superiors to open fire to stop the protestors.

Equating his 'long march' to the 1947 freedom struggle, Sharif gave a call for Zardari's ouster saying Pakistan could not be held hostage by a military or civilian dictator, in a veiled reference to the President. 

Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik, however, claimed no orders had been issued for putting the Sharif brothers in house arrest. Even as hundreds of protestors clashed with a large police contingent at the GPO Chowk in the heart of Lahore,
Sharif evaded police cordons around his home in Model Town and led a convoy of dozens of vehicles towards Islamabad to join the "long march" to pressure the government to reinstate judges sacked during the 2007 emergency. Over 1,200 lawyers, civil society activists and opposition political workers have been rounded up since the Government''s crackdown.
"This is a storm that cannot be stopped by the government," Sharif told Geo News channel as he drove from Lahore towards Islamabad. It took Sharif almost five hours to cover the 15 km between his Model Town home and GPO Chowk. The government should "heed the call for change" from the people and the PML-N would not stop till its mission is accomplished, he said.

"Brothers, do not be scared or worried. These obstacles are temporary. We must remove them and only then can we reach
our destination," he said. Denounced his house arrest order as illegal, Sharif told his flag-waving and chanting supporters, "These are the decisive moments.After 1947 this is the second time that the country needs you," the former premier said giving a call to oust President Asif Ali Zardari. 

Sharif said he felt "let down and betrayed" by Zardari, who had not fulfilled several promises to reinstate the judges who were deposed by former President Pervez Musharraf [Images]. He also said the PML-N had not joined the long march organised by the lawyers' movement for personal benefits, such as reversing the Supreme Court's order disqualifying him and his brother, former Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, from electoral politics. The protest was linked to resolving issues linked to the future of Pakistan and its people, he added.    

Though only a few hundred people gathered in the morning at GPO Chowk, their numbers swelled by the afternoon.      When a large number of lawyers, civil society activists and workers of the PML-N, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf and Jamaat-e-Islami initially assembled, a police contingent fired dozens of teargas shells and rubber bullets to disperse them.     

Both sides pelted stones and fought pitched battles. Later in the afternoon, the police forces were pulled back andthe protestors were left alone.
Police stood by and allowed Sharif's convoy to pass despite prohibitory orders barring rallies and processions. They also did not prevent dissident PPP leader Aitzaz Ahsan, a key player in the lawyers' movement who was put under house arrest, from joining protestors at GPO Chowk.
Reports said orders had been issued for the detention of Tehrik-e-Insaf leader Imran Khan [Images] and Jamaat-e-Islami leader
Qazi Hussain Ahmed, both of whom are in hiding. Khan's home here was raided by policemen, who locked and sealed it.
Despite an announcement by the PPP that it would file a review petition challenging the Supreme Court's order barring
Nawaz and Shahbaz from electoral politics, both leaders said they were determined to lead the long march to Islamabad.
The long march, launched on March 12, is scheduled to end with the sit-in outside parliament tomorrow but interior
ministry chief Rehman Malik has said this will not be allowed due to security concerns. He said there were fears of attacks,
include suicide bombings, during the protest.
A large number of paramilitary Pakistan Rangers and policemen have been deployed at a key highway interchange between Rawalpindi and Islamabad, and lawyers and opposition party leaders said they feared the long march would not be allowed to enter the capital tomorrow.
Police used freight containers to block key roads in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Additional police pickets were also
established. Helicopters hovered over the federal capital as the army was deployed at important buildings.
Police conducted raids on houses and offices of opposition parties and arrested activists and several leaders of the PML-N, Jamaat-e-Islami and Tehrik-e-Insaf. Lawyers and opposition parties have said authorities have detained over 1,200 people since Tuesday to thwart the march.

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