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Pakistani Opposition Leaders Arrested During State of Emergency

Police in Pakistan are arresting opposition leaders following a declaration of a state of emergency by President Pervez Musharraf. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, that although it is not known how many people are detained, the arrests appear to include even district-level officials.

The detention of opposition leaders began even before President Pervez Musharraf told the nation he had imposed a state of emergency.

Security forces surrounded the Supreme Court and detained allies of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry late on Saturday.

Throughout the night, the crackdown grew to include prominent opposition leaders and political activists. Those arrested included Javed Hashmi, the acting president of the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Baseer Naveed, a researcher at the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong, said the detentions appear to be aimed at preventing demonstrations against the government.

"Javed Hashmi is a good agitator and he will come on the streets at any time. He might have led a procession tomorrow towards the Supreme Court. So they are all scared of him. He's a good agitator," Naveed said.

Mr. Musharraf suspended the country's constitution because of what he called rising Islamic militancy and judicial activism. Critics inside and out of the country say his move undermines democracy and will likely inflame protests.

Pakistan People's Party officials said former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has not been detained and is at her home in Karachi.

Sajjad Bokhari is a PPP spokesman in Lahore. He told VOA that police have detained officials with his party across the country.

"Not only the main leaders, but the leaders at our district level, town level," Bokhari said. "Last night I received many calls from different districts [saying] that they have been arrested."

In the capital on Sunday morning, security forces continued to erect barricades on roads near government buildings.

The United States has described the state of emergency as a step backward for democracy and has urged Mr. Musharraf to hold elections as soon as possible.