Pakistan police arrest scores of activists in anti-U.S. rally

Monday, October 22, 2001

Associated Press WriterISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) -- Police moved Monday to block a major anti-U.S. protest, barring travel by the head of Pakistan's largest Islamic party and arresting scores of militants, police and activists said.

Angry after police stopped him at the Lahore airport from boarding a flight to the site of the protest, Qazi Hussain Ahmed of the Jamaat-e-Islam party told reporters that "the days of this government are numbered."

Pakistan, an ally in the U.S.-led military campaign in neighboring Afghanistan, has cracked down on protests by Islamic militants since shortly before the U.S. airstrikes started.

Monday's moves were aimed at defusing a rally called for Tuesday at Pakistan's air base at Jacobabad. Islamic activists charge Americans are using the base for attacks in Afghanistan.

President Pervez Musharraf's government insists Pakistan is lending only logistical support to the campaign.

Anticipating a showdown, Ahmed arrived at Lahore's international airport for his flight to Jacobabad backed by a chanting, angry throng of hundreds of his supporters.

Police there presented him with a written government order forbidding him to fly to the southern city, senior police official Aslam Sahi told The Associated Press.

Turned back, the Islamic leader declared he would challenge the government move in court -- and issued a vague but angry warning.

"The days of this government are numbered, and Musharraf will no longer be in power after a few days," he told reporters. He declined to elaborate.

In Sind province, where Jacobabad is located, police have arrested at least 500 activists from Pakistan's three leading Islamic organizations, said Munawar Hasan, spokesman of Jamaat-e-Islam. Officials put the number of arrests, which activists said were continuing Monday, only in the dozens.

Other activists have gone into hiding, determined to avoid arrest until they make it to Jacobabad for the protest, Hasan said.

Jacobabad saw running street battles between Islamic militants and police on Oct. 14, with at least one protester killed as mobs fought to reach the air base.

Hundreds of activists were arrested ahead of that rally as well, and most were released afterward. Three leading Islamic clerics were put under house arrest at the start of the military campaign in another pre-emptive move to block opposition.

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