Arrests on eve of Pakistan marathon

Police in eastern Pakistan have arrested around 100 Islamic activists after they threatened to block a mixed-sex marathon this weekend.

    The MMA has vowed to disrupt Sunday's marathon

    Those arrested on Saturday were from the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a six-party alliance which favours Taliban-style fundamentalist laws and which banned male coaches from training female athletes in North West Frontier Province in 2003.

      

    Police spokesman Nayab Haider  Naqvi said: "More than 100 MMA workers and activists including students have been arrested by Lahore police for attacking and injuring policemen."

      

    The MMA, which has vowed to disrupt Sunday's marathon in Lahore if women take part, disputed the police figures and said more than 1000 workers had been arrested.

      

    Amirul Azeem, the MMA's Lahore chief said: "So far police have arrested more than 1000 MMA workers from Lahore and different cities of Punjab province.

      

    "The government is trying to stop our protest over the mixed marathon race."

     

    Protest prevented

      

    Azeem said that police had stopped the group from holding a "peaceful" protest on Friday against the event and had arrested more than 200 activists from outside a main Lahore mosque.

      

    Government not to bar women
    from running in the marathon

    Police had also surrounded the Lahore headquarters of Pakistan's largest religious party, Jamaat-i-Islami, to restrict the movement of its workers and leaders, he said.

      

    Liaquat Baloch, the MMA spokesman, demanded the immediate release of all their workers and vowed their protest would continue.

      

    Baloch said: "We demand the immediate release of all MMA workers and office

    bearers. We will continue our protest over the mixed marathon race."

     

    Meanwhile, the government said it would not bar women from taking part in the race and had deployed extra policemen to beef up security.

      

    Amir Mehmood, the Mayor of Lahore, said: "Necessary arrangements have been finalized for the marathon. The government has deputised more than 5000 policemen to protect participants of the race."  

      

    Warning

     

    He said: "If anyone tried to create any obstruction in the way of race,

    he or she will be tried under anti-terrorism law."

      

    "This race will show to the world the soft image of Pakistan, those who do not like to participate in the marathon race should not join it" 

    Pervez Illahi,

    Chief Minister of Punjab

    Pervez Illahi, the Chief Minister of Punjab, said the government would deal with those who stood in the way of the mixed marathon with "iron hands."

      

    Illahi said: "This race will show to the world the soft image of Pakistan, those who do not like to participate in the marathon race should not join it."  

      

    Riots erupted in the central city of Gujranwala in April last year after police stopped armed activists from disrupting a mini-marathon involving women competitors.

      

    Pakistan has recently tried to open up sports to women with the creation of female cricket and hockey teams, although only family members are allowed to watch their matches.

      

    Rubab Raza, 14, was the country's first female swimmer to dive in an Olympic pool at the 2004 Athens Games.

    SOURCE: AFP


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