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Pakistan arrests 147 in Punjab towns as protests in Capital continue

As twin protests in Islamabad entered a fifth day on Tuesday, Pakistan police said they had arrested some 150 supporters of protest leaders overnight in Punjab province in a crackdown ahead of widening demonstrations in the capital.

Opposition leader Imran Khan and firebrand cleric Tahir ul-Qadri have led tens of thousands of supporters from Punjab to Islamabad in a bid to bring down Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whom they accuse of rigging elections and corruption.

The protests have piled extra pressure on the 15-month-old civilian government already struggling to overcome high unemployment, daily power cuts and a Taliban insurgency.

The protests have raised questions over the political stability of Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation of 180 million people with a history of coups.

Police in Punjab, Pakistan’s wealthiest and most populous province, arrested 147 supporters of Mr. Khan and Mr. Qadri overnight to prevent them joining the protests in Islamabad, said Inspector Rana Hussain in the central town of Sargodha.

Mr. Khan, a former international cricket star, said on Monday he would lead protesters into the capital’s “Red Zone”, an area home to Western embassies and key government ministries, on Tuesday.

The government has previously said protesters are not allowed to enter the area. It is flooded with riot police and paramilitary forces and cordoned off with shipping containers and barbed wire.

The government has not said whether Mr. Khan would be able to proceed to the Red Zone or not.

Mr. Qadri has said he will meet his supporters later on Tuesday to consider whether to march alongside Mr. Khan. Their protests have so far remained separate because the two have different supporters and plans for what should happen if Sharif steps down.

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