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Pakistani Islamic Party Leaders Briefly Detained - 2002-09-07

Authorities in Pakistan have briefly detained leaders and activists of a major alliance of Islamic parties for allegedly violating restrictions on election campaign rallies.

Witnesses and officials say the activists from Pakistan's six-party alliance, Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal or MMA, were trying to organize a rally at the Lahore railway station. But police detained them before they could board a train bound for the southern city of Karachi, where they were planning to hold a big political gathering.

The leader of Pakistan's largest Islamic party, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, is among those briefly taken into custody. He spoke to VOA from the detention center in Lahore and criticized the arrests as a blow to democracy before the October 10 Parliamentary elections. "This government has got no intention to hold free and fair elections," he said. "They want that the elections should be held in a frozen atmosphere."

Pakistan's military government has lifted a ban on public political meetings ahead of the elections, but rallies at main roads and railway stations are not allowed.

The country's major political parties have accused the military government of manipulating the polls in October, which are supposed to return Pakistan to civilian rule.

The anti-government parties are also criticizing President Pervez Musharraf for unilaterally amending the country's constitution. The constitutional changes have extended the military leader's term as president and army chief for at least five years. He is also empowered to dismiss an elected Parliament. President Musharraf's government says his moves are aimed at ensuring a stable political system in Pakistan.