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Showdown feared as govt tightens noose around PAT

08 August, 2014

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LAHORE: Security forces have arrested hundreds of activists of Tahirul Qadri's Pakistani Awami Tehreek (PAT) as the government braces for two major political protests in the next week.

The detentions follow calls from both Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Pakistani Awami Tehreek leaders this week for the government to resign. Arrests of activists began on Wednesday. Punjab Law Minister Rana Mashhood Ahmad told Reuters that 32 supporters of activist cleric Tahirul Qadri had been arrested. Qadri has called for a demonstration in Lahore on Sunday. He has demanded that the government resign by the end of the month following deadly clashes with his supporters in June.

"We have decided to round up those who intend to take law in their hands," Ahmad said. "We have received intelligence reports that Qadri's activists are collecting weapons and preparing barbed sticks to attack law enforcers." The arrests follow Qadri's call on national television for his supporters to attack police in their homes if his supporters are targeted. Qazi Faiz, a spokesman for Qadri, said 538 activists had been arrested but could not provide names. A security official in Multan said that at least 56 Qadri supporters were arrested there.

In Pakpattan, about 200 kms south of Lahore, police detained Qadri supporter Ashraf Haidari, his 21-year-old son Abrar Haidari told Reuters. "They broke the door and stormed in. My father was resting in his room. Police did not allow him to wear his shirt and dragged him out of house and took him to some unknown place," he said. Hundreds of PAT workers and supporters of Qadri gathered on Thursday in Lahore's Model Town in the area surrounding the party chief's residence. Over 300 of them were women, seated in tents outside the PAT chief's residence.

Moreover, members of the party's youth wing and Tehreek Minhajul Quran, armed with clubs, holding protective shields and wearing helmets were roaming the streets around the secretariat. Consequently, streets in the area stood blocked. The development came hours after the police booked Qadri for allegedly inciting people to rise against the government, provoking his followers to resort to violence and inciting them to confront police through his fiery speeches.

Residents of Model Town and Faisal Town suffered due to closure of roads and streets leading to Minhajul Quran Secretariat and Tahirul Qadri's residence on Thursday. The police started an overnight operation on Wednesday night to park heavy shipping containers and lay barbed wire on main roads near prominent places like Barkat Market, Faisal Town Roundabout, Model Town Link Road, Akbar Chowk and other areas.

Tens of thousands of residents found themselves stranded in their houses on Thursday morning because of a virtual siege laid to their localities while many others faced innumerable problems while reaching offices, hospitals, schools and universities. No official of the Punjab government or police was prepared to facilitate citizens because of a lack of coordination and organisation after sealing the posh locality. Because of parking of a large number of shipping containers, patients and families, who intended to visit Jinnah Hospital and Saira Memorial Hospital, suffered the most while ambulances also faced huge difficulties in reaching health facilities.

A second protest is due to be held on August 14, led by Imran Khan. He has also called for the government to resign and plans to lead a motorcade from Lahore into the capital Islamabad. Anila Khawaja, an activist with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, said at least two activists were detained on Wednesday.

Last week, the government deployed troops to guard key installations in the capital. Officials said it was to prevent Taliban attacks, but protest leaders say it is an attempt to intimidate them.


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