70 held as police crack down on drawngs protests

Police today arrested about 70 people, including clerics and religious school administrators, in the eastern city of Lahore in a bid to prevent an illegal rally against Prophet Muhammad cartoons from going ahead, police said.

The arrests occurred in police raids that began early on Saturday, said Lahore police chief Khawaja Khalid Farooq.

Qazi Hussain Ahmed, a leader of a coalition of six radical Islamic parties called Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), or United Action Forum, vowed in an interview with Pakistan’s private Geo television today that supporters would defy the government ban on rallies in Lahore.

Ahmed, who has been under house arrest in Lahore since police launched a similar crackdown on activists on Thursday night ahead of rallies planned for Friday, said he hoped to lead the rally.

But Farooq warned that anyone who attempted to join the rally will be arrested.

“There is a complete ban on rallies and carrying out processions in Lahore,” Farooq said.

“Nobody will be allowed to violate the ban. Anyone who tries to hold a rally or a protest will be arrested on the spot.”

Around 15,000 policemen and 3,000 paramilitary troops have been deployed in Lahore where they are patrolling the streets and guarding major traffic intersections, government installations, mosques and foreign consulates, Farooq said.

In HONG KONG about 1,000 Muslims staged a peaceful rally in a park today to condemn the cartoons.

During the rally, participants knelt and prayed. Several Muslim leaders gave speeches in four languages decrying the drawings that have since been reprinted in other newspapers including in Europe and the US.

Saeed Uddin, one of the rally organisers, said they wanted to hold a peaceful sit-in to “demonstrate the true spread of Islam of patience and tolerance”.

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