Karachi, May 11 (Reuters): Police in Pakistan detained hundreds of activists on the eve of an anti-government rally planned to welcome the country’s suspended top judge to Karachi, Opposition leaders said today.
Authorities confirmed some arrests had been made ahead of suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s visit to the volatile city tomorrow, but didn’t say how many.
The government’s suspension of Chaudhry on March 9 angered the judiciary and the Opposition, and has blown up into the most serious challenge to President Pervez Musharraf’s authority since he seized power in 1999.
Attorneys for Chaudhry said the judge would go ahead with his Karachi visit despite worries about clashes with government supporters who will hold their own rally. The authorities have requested the lawyers and Opposition figures to cancel the rally because of terrorism fears.
Opposition leaders said hundreds of activists were detained overnight and in pre-dawn raids in Karachi.
Police also drove off people trying to set up rallying points along the route Chaudhry will take from the airport and tore down banners put up to welcome him.
“They are trying their best to sabotage our programme. They have removed our camps and arrested 450 activists,” said Munawar Hassan, a leader of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, an Opposition alliance of six religious parties.
“But we’ll give him a good reception and bring him in to the rally from the airport,” he said. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the main party in the provincial government and a partner in the federal government, has called for a rally to oppose Chaudhry’s visit.
Police and a provincial government spokesman said some Opposition activists had been detained and some camps removed as they were obstructing traffic.
“We’re keeping a very vigilant eye,” said MQM member Sallahuddin Haider. “We’re not expecting clashes. The MQM would not like the city to be disturbed but I’m afraid some outsiders might try to instigate problems.” The provincial government said this week terrorists might take advantage of the situation and police said they had arrested a dozen people planning to attack Chaudhry’s rally.