Tue, Aug 29, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Strikes grip southwest Pakistan

PROTESTS Provincial political parties called a strike after the killing of a rebel chief, shutting down the city of Quetta, where police said hundreds had been arrested

AGENCIES , QUETTA AND LAHORE, PAKISTAN

Sporadic violence flared in the city of Quetta in Pakistan's turbulent Baluchistan Province yesterday during a protest strike following the killing of a nationalist rebel chief, police and residents said.

Political parties in the gas-rich southwestern province called the protest in the wake of Saturday's killing of veteran leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti.

Bugti, 79, died in a government attack on his cave-complex hideout in a remote corner of Baluchistan, a land of jagged mountains and deserts.

Protesters in the provincial capital set fire to half a dozen government offices and at least two buses and smashed street lights, witnesses and police.

There were no reports of casualties.

"In some places, students and youths have damaged public property but by and large, the situation is stable," provincial police chief Chaudhry Mohammad Yaqub said.

Most transport was off the streets and shops were closed in Quetta and other towns, a provincial government spokesman said.

At least three people were killed on Sunday as protests spread from Quetta to other parts of the province, where nationalists have agitated for decades for a greater share of the profits from its resources.

Police said about 700 people, many of them students, had been arrested in Quetta since Saturday night.

Main road links between Baluchistan and other parts of the country had been blocked by protesters who set fire to tires, and rail services had been suspended, police said.

Ex-militant chief freed

In Lahore, a judge yesterday ordered the release of a former anti-Indian militant group leader who had been detained earlier this month to stop him from speaking at a rally.

Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, 57, was arrested after the foiling of an alleged plot in Pakistan and Britain to blow up trans-Atlantic passenger planes, but officials claimed the ex-Lashkar-e-Tayyaba leader was not connected to the plan.

Instead, officials claimed Saeed had been detained to stop him from speaking at a rally, fearing he would disrupt public peace. He was initially placed under house in the eastern city of Lahore on Aug. 10 before being moved to a government building outside of the city.

Yesterday, Lahore High Court judge Akhtar Shabbir ruled that the government had no evidence to hold Saeed any longer and that he should be freed immediately.

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