Pakistan halts Buddhist anti-nuclear peace march

ISLAMABAD: The Japanese leader of a Buddhist peace march through Pakistan and India on Thursday said Islamabad had withdrawn permission for the marathon demonstration and was now holding the marchers "under virtual house arrest".

Speaking by telephone from the ancient Buddhist town of Taxila about 30 kms west of Islamabad, Japanese monk Terasawa Junsei said he and his fellow marchers were being confined at a museum in the town.

"We have been under virtual house arrest for two days now and we are being guarded by about 100 heavily armed anti-terrorist soldiers," Junsei said.

"The authorities say they halted the march for our safety. They said we had recieved so much publicity and would be so visible in rural areas that we would be exposed to violence ...

"We offered to travel by vehicle and reduce our procession from 40 days to two weeks as a compromise, but that has been rejected by the Interior Ministry's deputy secretary," he said.

Officals at the Interior Ministry were not immediately available for comment, but Junsei said the approximately 30 Buddhist marchers from Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan -- as well as a number of Pakistani Muslims and Christians -- were aware of the risks they faced.

"We have already declared that any risks are entirely our responsibility, but Pakistan is facing a crisis. The authorities are afraid we will be a target for attack, and if that happens then Pakistan will attract even more bad publicity," Junsei said.