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Pak authorities block major highways leading to Islamabad

world Updated: Mar 13, 2009 16:18 IST

Continuing their tough stance against activists and lawyers, Pakistani authorities on Friday blocked all major highways leading to the capital to prevent a protest march demanding reinstatement of sacked judges from reaching Islamabad.

Police and Paramilitary forces on Friday blocked another group of activists marching from Balochistan's capital Quetta to Sukkur in Sindh and arrested the Supreme Court Bar Association President Ali Ahmed Kurd along with some others.

The police action followed yesterday's incident when authorities arrested dozens of lawyers and political activists when they stopped a motorcade on way to Sukkur from Karachi.

But an undeterred Kurd, who staged a sit-in whole of the last night before his arrest, said "we have told our supporters to reach Islamabad by other routes in smaller groups."

"We are determined to go ahead with our mass protest outside the National Assembly. The march by lawyers and opposition leaders was to support reinstatement of sacked judges, but has mushroomed into a wider protest against the Government," Kurd said.

Showing no signs of reconciliation despite pressure from the US, authorities on Friday extended the ban on rallies to all major cities of NWFP, including provincial capital Peshawar.

PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif told a local TV channel that the march was not to destabilise the government but to appeal again to President Asif Ali Zardari to reinstate judges sacked during 2007 emergency.

"By resisting the popular will", Sharif charged, Zardari was only shortening his political career. "I don't think he will be able to complete his 5-year tenure."

Before the marchers from Quetta were arrested, they chanted slogans "Zardari is a traitor. Down with Zardari"

Naeem Qureshi, Secretary-General of the Karachi Bar Association, said there is no difference between this Government and a Martial Law regime

Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik has warned that authorities will allow protesters to gather in a park close to the capital and has vowed to keep them away from massing outside Parliament or in Islamabad proper.

Police also conducted raids on the homes of prominent political leaders and lawyers.

The NWFP government had earlier said it would not oppose the protest. Reports said dozens of people, including leaders and workers of the main opposition PML-N, Imran Khan's Tehrik-e-Insaf party and Jamaat-e-Islami, were either detained or put under house arrest.

PML-N secretary general Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, a close aide of party chief Nawaz Sharif, went into hiding after police raided his home in Peshawar.

Lawyers and political parties have said authorities have arrested over 1,000 people since Tuesday to prevent the "long march" called by the lawyers' movement.

Hundreds of people, most of them PML-N workers, have been detained in Multan, Okara, Sialkot, Sheikhupura, Toba Tek Singh, Gujranwala, Gujrat and Faisalabad.

Meanwhile, US has stepped up efforts to mediate between the warring political parties -- PML-N and PPP, which threaten to undermine its efforts to bolster the 'war on terror', specially in the volatile Pak-Afghan border.

But there appears no sign of a breakthrough in resolving the political impasse in Pakistan as media reports say that the present agitation appears increasingly to win popular support and is becoming like the unrest which ousted Pervez Musharraf.