Pakistani police clash with lawyers as protest begins

KARACHI, (Reuters) – Pakistani police clashed yesterday with black-suited lawyers and opposition activists  after the launch of a cross-country protest rally in defiance  of government attempts to stop it.

The so-called ‘long march’ protest for an independent  judiciary could destabilise President Asif Ali Zardari’s  government at a time when the nuclear-armed U.S. ally faces  severe problems from Islamist militants and a sinking economy.

Pakistan is vital to U.S. efforts to stabilise neighbouring  Afghanistan and defeat al Qaeda. The United States wants  Pakistan focused on fighting militancy rather than political  power plays.

Authorities banned rallies and detained hundreds of  political activists on Wednesday.

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