Turmoil in Pakistan: Sharif defies house arrest, lawyers battle police (Roundup)

March 15th, 2009 - 8:03 pm ICT by IANS  

Lahore, March 15 (IANS) Pakistan seemed headed for political unrest as a combative former prime minister Nawaz Sharif Sunday defied his house arrest to lead a massive march to Islamabad and hundreds of lawyers and political activists swarmed the streets and fought pitched battles with police.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief, whose party is leading what is being called a “long march” to demand reinstatement of judges sacked two years ago, left his Model Town home in a dramatic manner in the afternoon to march to GPO Chowk, where thousands of lawyers and political activists gathered for the rally to Islamabad.

Sharif’s party workers, ignoring the house arrest orders, opened the main gate of his house to let his cavalcade drive out as police stood mutely without offering any resistance.

Pakistan was turning into a “police state”, said Sharif, and urged people to join the national march of the lawyers.

“The government can do nothing to stop us,” Sharif said, adding that it was illegal to put him under house arrest.

Sharif was accompanied by dozens of party activists and by the time the cavalcade reached GPO chowk, thousands had joined the rally shouting anti-government and waving green party flags. A senior police officer joined the PML-N led march, TV reports said.

Earlier, defiant lawyers gathered outside the Lahore High Court and broke down its gate to continue their ‘long march’. The lawyers and political activists then marched ahead to the GPO Chowk where they pelted stones at police.

Dozens of political activists were rounded up by police.

Sharif’s brother, former Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, and cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf party chief, were also issued house arrest orders.

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

The government early Sunday placed Sharif and other opposition leaders under house arrest for three days in a move to stem further political trouble.

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

The police placed containers and tractor trolleys on the highways to stop vehicular movement.

The government move comes after 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 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 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 formed after the February 2008 general elections.

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