Police have launched another sweeping crackdown on the democracy movement in Pakistan, detaining at least 500 opposition activists ahead of a planned May Day rally against the military government.
Police said they had arrested around 500 pro-democracy activists to foil the May 1 meeting here, but opposition sources claimed more than 1,000 had been taken into custody since Wednesday night.
Most of the detainees are members of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and her successor Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML).
Both parties are in the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (ARD), an opposition coalition with a one-point agenda to challenge military ruler General Pervez Musharraf and revive the suspended parliaments.
“These arrests show the military government is in a panic and scared of the opposition’s popularity,” Sindh province’ PPP President Nisar Khuhro said Thursday.
Musharraf toppled the Sharif government in a bloodless coup in October 1999 and has vowed to create a “genuine democracy” with general elections due before October 12 next year.
“We have very clear instructions to arrest all the prominent leaders and activists of ARD who are active for May Day,” senior police officer Majeed Dasti said.
Among those arrested were PPP Deputy Secretary General Raza Rabbani, PML Sindh General Secretary Mamnoon Hussain and Awami National Party President Asfandyar Wali, according to Sindh Home Secretary Brigadier Mukhtar Sheikh.
“So far we have detained over 300 leaders and workers and more arrests are likely in the next few days,” he told AFP, adding that Wali had been “expelled” from Sindh.
ARD chief Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan and PML Acting President Javed Hashmi were detained on their arrival at Karachi airport and also would be expelled from the province on the next available flight, police said.