Pakistani police confront protesting Islamic militants

Wednesday, October 24, 2001

JACOBABAD, Pakistan -- Police wielding batons charged toward Islamic militants Tuesday to avert a mass demonstration near an air base being used to support U.S. personnel. More than 140 people were arrested, authorities and witnesses said.

The police rushed at approximately 200 militants, ordering them to disperse. They made no move to march on the base. An Associated Press photographer on the scene said at least five protesters appeared to have been injured by batons.

Two more small groups of demonstrators -- one of 25 people, the other of about 15 -- were arrested shortly afterward when they started to march toward Shahbaz Air Base, about three miles away.

Militant leaders from the Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan's largest and most influential religious party, had called on followers to mass and reach the base "at any cost."

The party wants to expel U.S. personnel supporting the U.S.-led military campaign to root out terrorist installations in Afghanistan of Osama bin Laden, top suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States.

Police erected sandbag bunkers and road blockades inside the city. Most shops were closed and many streets were deserted except for police, army and paramilitary troops.

Most roads to the city have been blocked and patrolled for days to prevent mass entry.

Jacobabad Police Chief Akhtar Shah said authorities had also arrested about 100 activists since Sunday to prevent air-base-related demonstrations.

In the southern city of Karachi, a party leader, Munawar Hasan, blamed the small turnout on the "brutal behavior" of police.

"We just wanted to stage peaceful protest demonstrations but we were not allowed," he told a rally of 1,000 supporters.

On Monday, the head of Jamaat-e-Islami was barred by police from traveling -- an attempt to defuse the planned demonstrations. Jamaat-e-Islami said police had arrested at least 1,100 supporters over the past two days. Authorities say the number is far lower.

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