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Killing raises security fears in Pak

Already-high security around South Africa's cricketers was further boosted on Tuesday after the assassination of a religious leader.

india Updated: Oct 07, 2003 14:37 IST

Already-high security around South Africa's cricketers was further boosted Tuesday after the assassination of a religious leader prompted violent riots, with fears the visitors could be targeted, officials said.

The Proteas, already swamped by presidential-style security, were given extra squads of paramilitary and army troops after Monday's assassination of Sunni extremist leader and MP Azam Tariq sent angry mobs on the rampage.

The South Africans are playing their third match of the five-day series in Faisalabad, chosen as a safe venue after the cities of Karachi and Peshawar were dropped from their itinerary on security fears.

The assassination in Islamabad of Tariq, an independent MP for his hometown of Jhang just 70 kilometers (43 miles) from here, has inflamed tensions between the Sunni and Shiite Muslim sects, especially in cities like Faisalabad where sectarian rivalries exist.

After the killing, Sunni mobs rampaged through Jhang, where five Shiites were stabbed and their mosque set ablaze, and in the capital Islamabad, where a man was killed when a moviehouse was set ablaze by mourners at Tariq's funeral.

Around 3,000 policemen and 150 commandoes were deployed inside and outside Faisalabad's Iqbal stadium, where the cricket match was being played, and along roads leading to the ground, officials said.

"We have alerted police to avert any possible reaction on the incident," Arif Rahim, chairman of the series' organising committee, told AFP.

"We have electronic gates at all nine entrances to the stadium to scan all spectators before they enter," said Rahim.

Two commandoes were posted outside each of the team's dressing rooms.

Shopkeepers in Faisalabad closed their stores, partly in protest and partly in fear of riots.

Authorities in Jhang ordered all schools and businesses to stay closed in a mark of mourning for Tariq.

South African team managers refused to comment on the rise in tensions, saying only that they were following the advice of their own security personnel travelling with them.

The tourists have been swamped by tight security ever since they arrived in Pakistan for a shortened tour one week ago.

Sniffer dogs have been clearing the floors of their five-star hotels before they check in and around 50 policemen patrol their hotels round the clock.

South Africa initially cancelled the tour over security fears after a bomb blast in southern port city Karachi three days before they were due to arrive.

They rescinded their decision and agreed to tour following the elimination of Karachi and border town Peshawar.

The Proteas have lost the first two matches and need to win Tuesday's match to avert an early series defeat.

First Published: Oct 07, 2003 14:34 IST