Pakistan's Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the government to free at least 100 opposition workers who were arrested at the weekend to stop protests against President Pervez Musharraf, officials said.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who became an opposition icon after military ruler Musharraf tried and failed to sack him earlier this year, ordered the release of the men, they said.
"The court has ordered authorities to free political workers and leaders who were taken into custody for the maintenance of public order," a senior police officer who attended a special hearing of the court told AFP.
The activists were seized after vowing to hold demonstrations against Musharraf's plans to be re-elected as president for another five years in a poll on October 6.
Those to be freed include Javed Hashmi, the acting chief of exiled former premier Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N party, and several key leaders of hardline Islamic parties.
The United States, Musharraf's main backer, issued an unusually harsh condemnation this week of the "extremely disturbing" arrests, while the European Union and Canada also expressed concern.