Sharif defies house arrest to lead long march (Fourth Lead, Changing Dateline)

March 15th, 2009 - 4:57 pm ICT by IANS  

Lahore, March 15 (IANS) Defying house arrest orders, former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif Sunday left his home to lead his party’s “long march” to demand reinstatement of sacked judges as lawyers and political activists fought pitched battles with police on the streets.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief left his Model Town home here for Kalma Chowk that leads to GPO Chowk where lawyers and political activists gathered for the march to Islamabad. The police lobbed tear gas shells on the assembly to disperse them, Dawn News reported.

Ignoring the house arrest orders, Sharif’s party workers opened the main gate of his house and his cavalcade drove out without the police offering any resistance.

Lawyers at GPO Chowk pelted stones at the police, which rounded up some of the political activists.

“The long march has begun from Lahore. Nawaz Sharif is leading the march,” Geo TV reported.

Sharif’s brother, former Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, and cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf party chief, reached Rawalpindi as the government issued directives for their house arrest.

Dozens of political workers have been arrested, Dawn News reported.

The police tried to arrest Shahbaz Sharif from the house of PML-N leader Chaudhry Tanveer in Rawalpindi, but Shahbaz has “managed to escape”, a media report said.

Earlier, defiant lawyers gathered outside the Lahore High Court and broke down its gate to continue their ‘long march’.

After breaking down the gate, the lawyers and political activists marched ahead to the GPO Chowk.

In a move to stem further political trouble, the government early Sunday placed Nawaz Sharif and other opposition leaders under house arrest for three days.

Inter-city transport came to a halt as the administration stopped buses from operating, causing inconvenience to thousands of people. Truck drivers also suspended their operation, affecting business and trade.

The highway police were instructed to search private cars and vehicles.

Apart from highways, the police placed containers and tractor trolleys that they had commandeered on the roads to stop vehicular movement.

The government move comes after Nawaz Sharif late Saturday rejected President Asif Ali Zardari’s offer of seeking a review of a Supreme Court verdict barring him and his brother Shahbaz Sharif from contesting elections and said the lawyers’ stir for reinstating the sacked judges would go ahead nonetheless.

“I am declaring here that come what may, the lawyers’ long march will continue to Islamabad,” Sharif said at a rally in Lahore Saturday night, even as the government earlier in the day asked the army to remain on standby to prevent the protesters from entering the federal capital.

In a major climbdown to end the lawyers’ protest, the Pakistani government had said it would appeal against the Supreme Court ruling on the Sharif brothers and also take steps to reinstate the judges then president Pervez Musharraf sacked after declaring an emergency in November 2007.

Zardari’s reneging on the agreement had prompted Sharif’s PML-N to walk out of the coalition led by the president’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) formed after the February 2008 general elections.

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