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Pakistani police deploy in force, shut Lahore

Thousands arrested ahead of opposition leader's return


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Protesters rally against Pervez Musharraf last month in Lahore.
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Pakistan People's Party says thousands were arrested Friday.
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LAHORE, Pakistan (CNN) -- About 12,000 police were deployed across Lahore on Saturday ahead of the return of opposition leader Asif Ali Zardari, with the government vowing to block any rallies by his party and effectively sealing off the city.

Zardari, head of the Pakistan People's Party, has been in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, visiting his exiled wife, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who has been living in self-imposed exile fearing arrest on corruption charges if she returns to Pakistan.

Zardari was jailed in 1996 when his wife's government was dismissed amid the allegations of corruption. He was released December after more than eight years in prison. He then went to Dubai to visit his wife.

On Friday, thousands of PPP supporters clashed with security forces, and some top members of the party's leadership were arrested while they held a meeting. It was not immediately clear if Zardari would be arrested upon his return.

Police sources said about 12,000 police were spread out around Lahore on Saturday, with 4,000 officers stationed around the airport.

More than 50 roadblocks have been set up by security forces throughout the city, effectively sealing it off.

More than 100 PPP supporters who arrived at the airport Saturday were arrested immediately. Those arrested included some members of parliament, the police sources said.

The government of President Pervez Musharraf has been adamant about curbing the political demonstrations.

Last month in a series of rallies, tens of thousands of Pakistanis crammed the streets to express dissatisfaction with Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless military coup in 1999.

Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told CNN the government would not allow the PPP to hold any rally or public gathering in the city, threatening them with legal action.

At least 5,000 PPP workers, leaders and members of parliament were arrested across the country Friday, according to police and PPP sources.

Dozens of PPP activists suffered injuries when police charged them in front of Karachi Railway Station. Police were trying to stop PPP activists from boarding trains for Lahore.

At least two journalists were listed in critical condition from injuries they suffered in the melee.

Several trains bound for Lahore were canceled or stopped before they reached the city.

Opposition parties protested the violence and the arrests by walking out of the National Assembly on Friday.

Authorities sealed the borders of Sindh and Punjab provinces Thursday night. Buses and other vehicles were not allowed to enter Punjab.

All transportation into Lahore from other cities was suspended Friday. All PPP offices have been sealed and police contingents have been deployed in and around the Lahore airport.

Punjab PPP President Qasim Zia told CNN the party had submitted a formal application to the government seeking permission to hold a rally upon Zardari's arrival.

He criticized the government's actions against the party and warned it of serious consequences if it tried to scuttle Saturday's reception.

CNN's Syed Mohsin Naqvi contributed to this report.


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