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Arrests, tear gas halt Pakistan cartoon protests

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LAHORE, Pakistan (CNN) -- Police arrested some 400 people including 10 lawmakers and used tear gas to disperse several hundred demonstrators in an attempt to prevent protests in Islamabad against cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, witnesses and police said.

One opposition leader in parliament, Maulana Fazal Ur Rehman, escaped house arrest and marched with 20 other MPs and several hundred supporters toward downtown Islamabad for what they said would be a peaceful protest.

On their way, police blocked the road and used tear gas to break them up.

Outside the capital, a heavy police presence blocked thousands of other protesters from the Frontier Province, about 90 miles away, from entering Islamabad to join the demonstration.

In Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, shops were closed and tires were set ablaze.

Tensions were high across Pakistan Sunday after the government arrested the leaders of the country's religious party alliance, the MMA, and some 400 other people who had sought to march on Islamabad to protest the publication of the caricatures.

Among those arrested were 10 members of parliament, security sources said.

When MMA President Qazi Hussain Mahmad attempted to leave his house before dawn Sunday, he was served with a notice putting him under house arrest for one month.

About an hour later, police raided the Islamabad residence of Maulana Fazal Ur Rehman, MMA's No. 2 and the opposition leader in Pakistan's National Assembly. He was detained well but managed to get away.

The MMA had asked officials for permission to lead what it said would be a peaceful demonstration against the images of the Prophet Mohammed, which were published in several newspapers, triggering protests across the Muslim world.

Some Muslims consider the depiction of the Muslim prophet to be blasphemous and banned by the Islamic holy book, the Quran. Violent protests have hit cities across Asia, Africa and the Middle East, claiming dozens of lives in recent days.

Pakistan's government Saturday announced it would not allow the march and activated police and paramilitary forces to prevent any would-be protesters from entering Islamabad.

Protests across the Muslim world have escalated in recent weeks, more than four months after the cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed were originally published in a Danish newspaper.

The cartoons have been reprinted in several newspapers since then.

While violence has been largely directed at Danish and other Western-based interests, protesters in Peshawar Thursday burned a bus terminal operated by an Asian firm.

CNN's Syed Mohsin Naqvi contributed to this report.

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