Pakistan police use force to break anti-Taliban rally

Riot police arrested dozens of people and fired teargas shells and used batons to break up a march organised by a religious group to protest the Taliban bombings in Pakistan, organisers and witnesses said.

Islamabad/Lahore: Riot police arrested
dozens of people and fired teargas shells and used batons to
break up a march organised by a religious group to protest the
Taliban bombings in Pakistan, organisers and witnesses said.

Several hundred activists from Sunni Muslim groups
started the "Long March" from Islamabad this morning and
planned to go to Lahore, the capital of Punjab province.

The Punjab government had banned the rally, fearing it
could be attacked by militants.

Despite the ban, around 200 activists of the Sunni
Ittehad Council succeeded in marching from Islamabad to the
garrison city of Rawalpindi.

The march was aimed at protesting against recent
Taliban attacks on shrines of Sufi saints, Council leader
Hanif Tayyab said.

Police parked containers on the main highway between
Rawalpindi and Lahore to stop the marchers who were on foot
and in vehicles, Tayyab said.

When the marchers succeeded in crossing barriers,
police in Rawalpindi used teargas and batons to stop them from
proceeding to Lahore.

Witnesses said participants threw stones at the
police, turning parts of Rawalpindi into a battleground.

Several participants damaged a police van, officials
said.

In Punjab, police launched a crackdown and arrested
dozens of activists of Sunni Muslim groups from different
districts of the province.

Leaders of the Sunni Ittehad Council claimed police
had arrested 5,000 of its workers during the past three days
but this could not be independently confirmed.

Council spokesman Muhammad Nawaz Kheral said the
police had sealed several religious seminaries in Punjab by
deploying scores of policemen.

He said this was a matter of great concern for his
organisation.

Officials said that the march was banned following
reports of a possible attack on the march by militants.

Despite the restrictions imposed by the authorities,
leaders of the Sunni Ittehad Council vowed to continue the
protest in Lahore.

"We will try to reach Lahore to stage a protest
there," Tayyab said.

The Tahaffuz Namoos-e-Risalat Mahaz said all members
of the Sunni Ittehad Council will gather at the famous Data
Darbar shrine tomorrow.

It said the march will continue despite the arrest of
Sunni workers and leaders.

TNRM president Allama Razaul Mustafa Naqshbandi
condemned the arrests and police action against the marcher.

He said the Punjab government`s oppressive tactics
were reminiscent of those employed by the regime of military
ruler Pervez Musharraf.

PTI

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