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Video by Fiona CAMERON

Latest update : 2009-03-15

Defying his house arrest, Pakistan’s opposition leader Nawaz Sharif emerged Sunday to denounce the government for turning the country into a “police state” as protestors clashed with security forces.

REUTERS - Pakistani protesters clashed with police on Sunday as former prime minister and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif said the government had turned the country into a police state.


Sharif has thrown his support behind a protest campaign by anti-government lawyers that threatens to bring turmoil to Pakistan as the government struggles to stem militancy and to revive a flagging economy.


Several hundred protesters, many of them members of the Jamaat-e-Islami religious opposition party, threw stones at police outside the High Court in the city of Lahore, where Sharif had been due to address a rally.


Police responded with tear gas and lashed out with batons.


Sharif said the protests against the government would go on.


"You have seen that the entire country has been turned into a police state. They have blocked all roads, they have used all sorts of unlawful tactics," Sharif told a throng of reporters gathered at the front step of his Lahore home.


"We will continue marching towards our destination. Sons and daughters, the time has come to take to the streets."


If the political crisis gets out of hand, the army could feel compelled to intervene, though most analysts say a military takeover is highly unlikely.


The United States is deeply worried that the crisis is a distraction to Pakistan's efforts to eliminate Taliban and al Qaeda enclaves on the Afghan border, vital to U.S. plans to stabilise Afghanistan and defeat al Qaeda.


Earlier, Sharif's party said he had been ordered detained at his home for three days. Police officer Babur Awan also said a detention order had been issued.


Police in riot gear virtually sealed off Sharif's house with road blocks on all approaches, but government officials denied he had been placed under house arrest.


"I categorically confirm no restraining orders, no arrest warrant, no house arrest," Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik told the BBC.


Another government official said Sharif had been placed under "protective security" for three days after he had refused options for addressing his supporters under government protection.


Malik said earlier security agencies had information "enemies of Pakistan" would launch suicide bomb attacks on the protest.


But Sharif said the government was acting illegally in order to stop the protest campaign. He later drove off in his bullet-proof vehicle to address protesters.


Date created : 2009-03-15