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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pakistan Targets Militants


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Amnesty International expressed worries Monday that a crackdown against political and religious violence in Pakistan could lead to arbitrary arrests and detentions.

About 200 people have died in violent clashes between Sunni and Shiite Moslem extremists in eastern Punjab province since the start of the year.

Meanwhile, in southern Sindh province, more than 150 have died in street fighting between rival factions of a militant minority party.

Thousands of paramilitary troops have fanned out across Punjab and Sindh to combat the spread of violence, and police have arrested hundreds of militant activists in both areas.

Sixteen people were killed in Shiekhupra and Mondka village near Multan on Saturday, only a day after 12 people died in attacks on Sunni mosques in Lahore and Multan.

Officials said several hundred paramilitary personnel would guard places of worship and sensitive sites in major cities.

Residents said paramilitary troops Monday moved into Mondka village where shops remained closed for the second day running and tension remained high. Some 800 demonstrators in the small village of 10,000 people staged a protest rally, they said.

The participants barricaded roads and chanted slogans against the police, demanding the arrest of the killers, they said. Police said 25 suspects taken into custody were being interrogated in connection with terrorism in Mondka.

The National Assembly is mulling anti-terrorism legislation that would give police wider powers to arrest and detain suspected militants.

The London-based human rights group said such a move "has been tested and proved counterproductive in the past.'' It also criticized existing legal provisions concerning the arrest and detention of suspects. The group said Punjab police have arrested dozens of Sunni and Shiite activists and held them under an ordinance that allows detention without charges for up to three months.

"Time and time again police appear to be using [the ordinance] simply because they did not have sufficient evidence to bring charges against suspects,'' the group said in a statement.

Punjab police have said they are holding only 60 activists, against whom they have enough evidence to levy criminal charges.

"Their cases will soon be referred to special anti-terrorist courts,'' said Lahore police inspector Jahan Burki on Sunday.

The federal government has appointed two judges to run special courts that only will hear cases related to sectarian and political violence. Pakistan's judiciary initially balked at pressure from federal authorities to establish the courts.

In a crackdown in Sindh, police have arrested hundreds of people from the militant Mohajir Qami Movement and other opposition parties, Amnesty said.