Hard-line Islamic group says leader detained briefly by police in bid to stop anti-Musharraf rally

Sunday, April 21st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ The leader of Pakistan's largest Islamic party was picked up by police on Sunday in an apparent attempt to prevent protest rallies against President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a party spokesman said.

Qazi Hussain Ahmed, chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami, or the Islamic Party, was detained outside the party headquarters in Lahore, the capital of populous eastern Punjab province, party spokesman Munawaar Hasan told The Associated Press by telephone.

Witnesses reported seeing at least 400 supporters of the group shouting slogans against the military-led government as Ahmed and one of his aides, Mian Maqsood, were taken away by the police.

Ahmed was released after several hours in custody, but has had to abandon plans to lead a protest caravan from Lahore about 185 miles across the country to the city of Rawalpindi, just outside the capital, Hasan said. Instead, he will address the protesters in Rawalpindi by telephone.

``The aim of the brief detention was to prevent our rally,'' Hasan said. ``But it won't hamper our struggle.''

Ejaz Shah, in charge of security for the province, earlier in the day denied that Ahmed had been arrested but said police had picked up two other Jamaat-e-Islami leaders because they were planning to block a main highway with their protest. He could not be reached for immediate comment on the report that Ahmed had been released.

Hasan said his group would go ahead with Sunday rallies in several cities _ including the one in Rawalpindi _ to protest against Musharraf's bid to extend his presidency for five years through a national referendum this month.

``The referendum is unconstitutional and illegal,'' Hasan said.

Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in October 1999, has been addressing crowds around the country in the past month to mobilize support for the referendum, scheduled for April 30. A vote in his favor would secure his position ahead of October elections for a new parliament, which under the constitution is supposed to select a president and prime minister.

Musharraf says that he must stay on as president to ensure that political and economic reforms, including anti-corruption measures, are carried out. So far none of his opponents have been able to mobilize a popular movement against the referendum.