Pakistan checks dozens of Islamists in connection with cartoon scandal

Pakistani police detained dozens of Islamists, heightened security across the country and reportedly restricted movements of a top cleric ahead of planned nationwide protests Friday against the publication of Prophet Muhammad cartoons in Western newspapers. "We are holding only 35 activists of religious parties to stop them from taking part in rallies, as we feared that they might disrupt law and order," said Khawaja Khalid Farooq, the police chief in the eastern city of Lahore .

Police and troops in vehicles patrolled the streets of the capital Islamabad and diverted traffic from key roads in anticipation of illegal protests. Police and paramilitary rangers surrounded the headquarters of Jamaat-e-Islami, the country's most organized religious group, in Lahore to stop the group's president Qazi Hussain Ahmed from leading a rally.

Although authorities said Ahmed had been told by the government not to lead any illegal rally, Liaquat Baluch, a party leader, told the AP that they would go ahead with the planned protests. He would not confirm that Ahmed had been placed under house arrest, although local media reported that an order for such detention had been issued. Police refused to comment.

Islamists torched hundreds of vehicles, a provincial parliament building, shops and Western businesses last week during rallies in Lahore , the capital of eastern Punjab province. Three people were killed in the violence.

As well as the 35 in Lahore , people were also picked up by police in overnight raids in Islamabad and nearby city of Rawalpindi . Shahid Shamsi, spokesman for the six-party coalition Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), or United Action Forum, said 31 supporters were arrested in Islamabad and Rawalpindi ahead of the rallies they wanted to stage after Friday prayers.

"With this type of provocation, it becomes difficult for us to keep our people peaceful," he said late Thursday. But Sikandar Hayat, a senior Islamabad police officer, said only one alliance activist was arrested in the capital. He said since there was a ban on rallies in Islamabad , anyone trying to violate it would be arrested.

Authorities say they have deployed security forces outside mosques and at major places across the country to ensure peace during Friday's rallies. In Pakistan , five people have died in recent weeks in violent pretests against the cartoons, which were first published in Denmark in September, reports the AP.

N.U.