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Pak bans protests on eve of "long march"

world Updated: Mar 11, 2009 13:02 IST

Authorities in Pakistan's Punjab province have banned public gatherings, a government official said on Wednesday, the day before a planned protest march by lawyers that could challenge the year-old government.

"It has been done to maintain law and order, so from now there's a ban on all sorts of processions, protests and congregations for one month," senior provincial interior department official, Farhan Aziz Khawaja, told Reuters.

Anti-government lawyers backed by opposition parties are due to launch a cross-country protest convoy, known as a long march, on Thursday in the southern provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan.

They are pressing for the reappointment of a former Supreme Court chief justice who then army chief and president Pervez Musharraf dismissed in 2007.

Their convoy of cars and buses is due to reach Punjab on Friday, when they aim to begin a sit-in outside parliament in the capital, Islamabad, on Monday.

The lawyers, in league with opposition parties which can mobilise their supporters, pose a significant challenge to the civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari, who has refused to reappoint the former chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry.

(Reporting by Kamran Haider; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Paul Tait)