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Pakistan Sectarian Clashes Lead to Massive Arrests - 2001-08-22

Authorities in Pakistan have arrested more than 200 people accused of belonging to militant groups involved in sectarian clashes. The violence has killed hundreds of people during the past few years in the country's commercial center, Karachi.

Police in Karachi say those arrested are activists in two rival Islamic groups one representing the Sunni and the other the Shiite community, Sunni-based Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Shiite Sipah-e-Mohammad. Authorities in Pakistan have banned the two organizations, saying they are responsible for hundreds of deaths in sectarian violence.

Karachi police officials say that during the raids they also confiscated hundreds of weapons and political paraphernalia, such as banners the groups used in their public demonstrations.

Monday, authorities in Sindh province banned Islamic militant groups from displaying public banners, or engaging in fund raising to promote sectarian violence or Jihad, holy war activities.

Government spokesman Major General Rashid Qureshi says authorities are serious about ending sectarian violence, and the crackdown will be extended beyond Sindh province, where Karachi is located. "Strict and serious action is being taken so that this lawlessness, which they were trying to spread, is controlled and eliminated," General Qureshi said. "It is for all over Pakistan and it will continue. We are determined to prevent lawlessness from pervading Pakistani society."

Some militant groups have vowed to resist the crackdown. A spokesman for the militant group Al-Badr Mujahadeen, which opposes Indian rule in Kashmir, is quoted, as saying his organization will fight the crackdown.

Other larger groups, such as Lashkar-e-Toiba, have also circuited the government move. But it says it is adopting a wait-and-see attitude for the time being.

India accuses Pakistan of providing military support to insurgents in Kashmir, a charge Pakistani officials deny.