Pakistan arrests dozens of Islamic activists
JACOBABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistani police have arrested scores of Islamic activists in a bid to block an anti-U.S. protest in Jacobabad.
Police detained a top Islamic party leader in nearby Lahore to prevent him from reaching Jacobabad, after he urged Pakistani troops to rise up against the government.
Dozens of other Islamic activists had also been arrested by midday after a Tuesday protest was called around a Pakistani air base being used by the U.S. military near this southern town.
Police say they are cracking down on the militants after the leader of the country's largest Islamic party gave a speech over the weekend urging Pakistani troops to rise up against President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Police detained Qazi Hussain Ahmed from the Jamiat-e-Islam party (JI) on Monday when he tried to board a plane for the protests in Jacobabad.
But Islamic militants have remained defiant and vowed to seize the base Tuesday afternoon, The Associated Press has reported, in a bid to expel the U.S. personnel.
An estimated 600 U.S. troops are believed to be stationed at the base.
They are providing logistical support to the U.S.-led efforts to root out terrorist installations in Afghanistan belonging to Osama bin Laden, top suspect in the September 11 terror attacks on the United States.
The hardline Islamic actions come as Pakistan's president tries to balance his support of the United States with strong Muslim anti-American sentiment at home.
Blockades and sandbag bunkers were erected around the Jacobabad, most shops were closed and many streets were deserted except for heavily armed patrols of police, army and paramilitary troops, the Associated Press reported.
At least 2,000 additional police from nearby towns have been called in to tighten security in and around Jacobabad, according to Reuters news agency reports.
Police have set-up at least 200 new check posts at all the entry points, witnesses told Reuters.
But despite roads to the city being blocked for days, about 200 militant Muslims appeared inside the city on Tuesday morning.
Police rushed them with batons, ordering them to disperse, but there were conflicting accounts of just how many were arrested.
Pakistani police said all 70 members of the JI party that took part in the demonstration were arrested.
But according to JI party sources, 250 of its members took part in the protests, with 25 being arrested.
The JI party and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party, both fundamentalist Islamic parties opposed to the U.S.-led raids, have said in recent days that about 1,000 of their members have been arrested by police.
But police in Jacobabad said they have only arrested 84 members of JI in connection with street battles that broke out on October 14, after protesters were stopped from reaching the air base.
'Reach at any cost'
A JI spokesman in Jacobabad, Maulana Abdul Hafeez Bajarani, told the Associated Press on Tuesday morning of more actions through the day. "We will reach the air base at any cost," he said.
As he tries to dampen pro-Tabilban sentiment at home, Pakistan's president has told CNN he hopes the U.S.-led strikes on Afghanistan end before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Musharraf has repeatedly said most Pakistanis stand by him in his support of the U.S.-led campaign. Last week, during U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit to Pakistan, Musharraf said he believes the U.S.-led "military campaign in Afghanistan should be short and targeted".
However, he reaffirmed Pakistan's support for the anti-terror coalition as long as it lasts saying his nation would stand beside the United States for "as long as it took to achieve the desired result."
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