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Pakistan Opposition Denounces Proposed Ban on Rallies


Political opposition parties in Pakistan are denouncing a government proposal to ban large political rallies following Friday's deadly attack in Karachi. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad that foreign political analysts have also expressed concern about the proposal.

Massive, traffic-stopping rallies have long been a feature of Pakistan's political culture, where a candidate's strength is partly judged by the crowds he or she draws.

Babar Awan, a senator allied with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, believes the government's proposed ban on such events has nothing to do with improving security.

"The sitting regime and the political allies of the sitting regime - they are incapable as it has been proved in the last eight years of having the massive support therefore they want to go for a controlled, directed election," he said.

Politicians from several opposition parties say President Pervez Musharraf's government was threatened by Friday's outpouring of support for former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and wants to limit the impact of such events.

Instead, Senator Awan insists, the government should provide the necessary security to ensure there are no more attacks on political rallies.

Visiting former U.S. Senator Tom Daschle told reporters Sunday in Islamabad that while he does not support a total ban on public rallies, some safety precautions could be reasonable.

"Rallies are an important part of the political process," he noted. "Obviously there are occasions when concerns for violence have to be taken seriously."

Analysts with the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute who were traveling with Daschle noted that political tensions are already running high in Pakistan. They said the government risks further eroding its credibility if it tampers with the election schedule or the campaign season.

The analysts also said Pakistan's judiciary must remain independent, particularly as it considers several high-profile cases involving top political leaders.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao rejected Benazir Bhutto's request for American and British investigators to help the investigation of Friday's bomb attack. He said Pakistani investigators have plenty of experience and can handle the inquiry.

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