LAHORE, Pakistan (AFP) — Pakistan’s main opposition leader Nawaz Sharif was placed under house arrest Sunday, police said, in a bid to prevent him leading a protest march amid a deepening political crisis.
Sharif, a former prime minister who was last month barred from running for office, had said Saturday he would lead an anti-government protest from the eastern city of Lahore to Islamabad on Sunday.
“Sharif has been ordered not to leave his house in Lahore for three days,” police officer Ijaz Ahmed told AFP.
Similar restrictions were imposed on several other opposition leaders including former cricketer turned politician Imran Khan and the main Islamist party Jamat-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed, he added.
Police have been deployed outside the homes of Khan and Ahmed in Lahore but party officials said both leaders managed to secretly slip out and were on their way to Islamabad.
Sharif said on Saturday that he would join a protest by lawyers pushing for the restoration of judges deposed under former president Pervez Musharraf and that he intended to lead the march to Islamabad.
Raja Zafar ul Haq, convener and senior leader of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) said the detention order was “totally unwanted.”
“It will further increase tension, the government wants to spark violence and create chaos in the country,” he told a private television channel.
President Asif Ali Zardari, widower of slain former premier Benazir Bhutto promised soon after his election in September that he would restore the sacked judges within one month but later reneged on his pledge.
Lawyers and Sharif are demanding Zardari honour his commitment.
The government has imposed the worst crackdown of its time in power on activists planning to march on Islamabad to demand the judges’ reinstatement. Protests have been banned and more than 1,000 activists detained.
The turmoil could not come at a worse time for the nuclear-armed Muslim nation, which is a central front in US President Barack Obama’s fight against Islamist militancy and facing a wave of Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked violence.
Musharraf removed independent-minded chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and some 60 other judges in 2007, fearing that he would be declared ineligible to contest a presidential election while in military uniform.
The move triggered a countrywide protest, spearheaded by lawyers, which ultimately forced Musharraf to quit in August 2008.