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    Pakistan Cracks Down on Activists Ahead of Protest March 

    Authorities in Pakistan have banned protests and rounded up hundreds of lawyers, opposition politicians and other activists before a planned rally against the government in the capital.  Protesters want to reinstate the country's former Supreme Court chief justice, and their rallies also could further weaken Pakistan's embattled government.

    Prominent human rights activist Tahira Abdullah was arrested at her home in Islamabad.

    "They came very early in the morning just after dawn," said Abdullah. "They came in a huge truck full of police men, plus two police women, plus a plain clothes intelligence agent and a magistrate. They did not serve me any papers. They rang the bell, but I did not open the door. They picked up a brick and started hammering down the kitchen door."

    She eventually relented and agreed to go to the police station, where she says she was threatened with a 90-day jail sentence. After local media broadcast news of her detention, she was released.

    Officials in Punjab and Sindh insist the crackdown is aimed at preventing violence at the rallies and thwarting terrorists who may target demonstrators for publicity.  Punjab officials said more than 200 people in the province have been arrested. 

    The confrontation between the country's two main political parties has been brewing for nearly a year and stems mainly from President Asif Zardari's refusal to reinstate the former Supreme Court chief justice, who was deposed by former president Pervez Musharraf. Political analysts say former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry could reopen corruption and criminal cases against Asif Zardari.

    Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has long championed Chaudhry's reinstatement, but he stepped up his campaign late last month after the current supreme court, largely seen as sympathetic to Mr. Zardari, banned Sharif and his brother from holding elected office.

    Since then, the two brothers have held large rallies in their political stronghold in Punjab, where they have urged supporters and even police officers not to obey the country's rulers.  Pakistan's interior minister warned Sharif earlier this week that his actions come close to committing treason and he could be arrested if the rallies turn violent.

    Sharif dismissed the warning in a demonstration outside Islamabad and urged his supporters to converge on the capital next week.

    He says they are threatening me with treason, but he says that is ridiculous because they themselves are rebels who are destroying the country with their policies.

    Pakistan's government is struggling to contain worsening violence by al-Qaida and the Taliban and is trying to revive its deteriorating economy. 

    Meanwhile, gunmen in Peshawar targeted a senior politician of the Awami National Party.  Bashir Bilour survived the attack Wednesday, but several people were reported killed. 

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