PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- A prominent Pakistani cleric who supports Afghanistan's Taliban was placed under house arrest for nearly a day Sunday to keep him from leading another protest against the United States, his party and provincial officials said.
Maulana Fazal-ur Rehman, leader of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, or the Party of Islamic Clerics, was permitted to leave his house at around 8 p.m. Sunday after nearly 20 hours, according to Abdul Jalil Jan, deputy secretary of the group.
Heavily armed police and paramilitary troops had been stationed for much of the day at his home in Dera Ismail Khan, 120 miles south of Peshawar.
A statement by officials in North West Frontier province said Rehman had been detained because he planned to lead an anti-American rally Sunday in Multan, in Punjab province about 270 miles southwest of the capital, Islamabad. The Punjab provincial government had banned his entry, the statement said, explaining the arrest.
Despite Rehman's absence, an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 people showed up for the Multan rally. They burned an American flag and an effigy of President Bush.
"If Maulana Fazal-ur Rehman is not released within 24 hours, our workers will start countrywide agitation," Hafiz Hussain Ahmed told the crowd.
Releasing Rehman, the provincial government said he now was free to travel wherever he wanted in Pakistan, including Punjab, the country's most populous province.
Rehman has been fiercely critical of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's promise to help the United States in its crackdown against Osama bin Laden's network, run from neighboring Afghanistan.
Pakistan's military-led government has pledged support for U.S. efforts to apprehend bin Laden, chief suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"The arrest has been made at the behest of America," Jan said while Rehman was detained. "But it won't dampen our spirits."
Rehman's party, which also espouses a restrictive Taliban-like system of Islam, has urged Muslims to wage jihad, or holy war, if the United States attacked Afghanistan.
Rehman's release came before the United States and Britain launched strikes Sunday against military installations and bin Laden's training camps inside Afghanistan, where the ruling Taliban have sheltered him.
The move against Rehman came one day after he led a noisy, four-hour protest by several thousand people in Peshawar, in northwest Pakistan near the Afghan border. Rehman told the crowd that if the United States tried to land planes in Pakistan, they would be destroyed.
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