A Muslim leader called for protest rallies across Pakistan on Monday after police arrested hundreds of hardline religious activists to thwart a weekend rally against Prophet Muhammad cartoons in the eastern city of Lahore.
A coalition of six radical Islamic parties called Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), or United Action Forum, declared Monday "a protest day" after police prevented Sunday's planned rally in Lahore, alliance lawmaker Liaqat Baluch said.
He said that women supporters of the coalition will hold an illegal rally in Lahore later Monday against the publication of the cartoons, deemed blasphemous by Muslims. The images were first published by a Danish newspaper in September and then by other publications around the world.
The Prophet cartoons have ignited violent protests across the Muslim world that have killed at least 45 people. Muslims have denounced the drawings б one of which shows a prophet with a turban shaped like a bomb with a lit fuse, as offensive to their religion.
Hundreds of MMA supporters were arrested in Lahore at the weekend in a pre-emptive strike by police to prevent the rally, said Baluch, who is also the group's deputy secretary-general.
Khawaja Khalid Farooq, chief of police in Lahore, did not have details of the number of opposition activists arrested in Lahore, saying "we have rounded up dozens of activists who had tried to break the ban on holding rallies and processions."
He said the rally planned by women activists of the religious alliance, a group known as Shan-e-Mustafa, was illegal, reports the AP.