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Pakistani police detain 1,500 in crackdown on opposition

Police commandos stand guard while people line up for a security check at the entrance to a courthouse in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Oct. 31.
(Anjum Naveed / Associated Press)

Pakistani police launched a nationwide crackdown overnight, arresting at least 1,500 supporters of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan ahead of an opposition rally planned later this week in Islamabad, officials said Monday.

The arrests followed intermittent clashes over the weekend between Khan’s supporters and riot police in the capital that saw officers using tear gas and batons to fight stone-throwing activists. The violence erupted again Sunday near Khan’s suburban home and at several places on Islamabad’s outskirts.

On Monday, a Pakistani court barred Khan’s followers from demonstrating on Islamabad streets, restricting the rally to within the limits of a city park, said government prosecutor Saddique Awan. As of last week, the government had already enforced a two-month ban on street rallies in the capital.

Khan’s attorney, Babar Awan, said the politician’s party would appeal. It has called for massive street demonstrations for Wednesday, threatening to lock down Islamabad in a bid to force Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign.

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Sharif has been under pressure after his family members were named as holders of offshore bank accounts in leaked financial documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Police have conducted raids based on tips and other information about planned violence, said government spokesman Zaeem Qadri. Those who pledge not to take part in violent actions are released, while those considered a threat remain in custody pending charges, he said.

Two security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, said the number of those arrested overnight was between 1,500 and 1,800.

Police have placed shipping containers on key highways leading to Islamabad to stop convoys of Khan supporters from across Pakistan from reaching the capital.

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Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said Khan’s followers had violent plans, which included the storming of government offices.

Khan’s close aide, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, alleged that police were “trespassing on the houses of our leaders and activists.” He said two senior leaders of the party were forcibly bundled into a police van. Both were later released on orders from the interior minister.

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