- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 24, 2002

From combined dispatches
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Police in the eastern city of Lahore rounded up dozens of leaders of the country's main opposition parties to block a rally yesterday demanding the ouster of Pakistan's military ruler.
Tensions soared in the city near the border with India, as police erected barbed wire barricades and blocked all main roads leading to Mochi Gate Garden, a massive park where the rally was scheduled. Thousands were expected to attend, but police stopped the rally from forming.
Police defended the arrests of members of the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD), arguing that a protest would disrupt law and order in the country.
The alliance said police arrested 100 people, including former government ministers and members of the provincial assembly. Police said they had detained dozens of ARD workers. Those detained include the top leaders of the parties of former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's government has refused to permit large demonstrations since Jan. 12, when Pakistan began cracking down on Islamic extremists in an effort to cooperate with the United States in its war on terrorism.
Gen. Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in October 1999, has been holding high-level meetings to muster support for a referendum reaffirming his rule. The ballot would be held sometime before parliamentary elections set for October.
The Supreme Court two years ago ordered Gen. Musharraf to hold elections to restore a democratic government by October this year. If he bypasses the election, he would have to amend the constitution, which requires that Parliament choose a president.
Gen. Musharraf did not mention the referendum during an address to the nation over state-run Pakistan Television yesterday to mark Pakistan's national day.
Pakistani newspapers reported Friday that Gen. Musharraf told a delegation of political workers he would not allow Mrs. Bhutto and Mr. Sharif to run in the general elections.
Gen. Musharraf has said he will lift the ban on rallies at some time before the elections. Alliance leaders insist the time has come.
"We will defy the ban on rallies," said Misbaur Rehman, a local leader in Lahore. He was arrested later by police.
Meanwhile, in the city of Rawalpindi, just outside the capital, Islamabad, a key Islamic leader also pledged to defeat Pakistan's secular government in the next elections.
Qazi Hussain Ahmed, a longtime supporter of Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers, said he wants to bring Islamic revolution to Pakistan by forming an alliance with other religious parties.
"Musharraf should step down with honor," he said. "Otherwise, the masses will oust him from power with force, as he has handed over the country's airports and other sensitive installations to the United States for operations against Islamic elements."
Pakistan canceled the traditional armed forces parade for Pakistan Day yesterday because of heavy deployments on the western border with India.
The two countries have massed more than a million troops following a December attack on the Indian Parliament, which New Delhi blamed on Pakistani-backed militants, in a standoff that shows no sign of easing.

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