| GEO World|
| No more violence, US tells Pak|
| Updated at: 0642 PST, Thursday, March 12, 2009|
WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday said Pakistan should allow its citizens to protest government actions and the government should avoid violence, but refrained from criticizing a massive government clampdown against opposition activists.
Pakistani police said they arrested more than 300 people earlier on Wednesday on the pretext of avoiding violence ahead of a cross-country protest march planned for later this week. Opposition groups said the arrests numbered in the thousands.
State Department spokesman Robert Wood said Pakistan was a sovereign country and should take steps to reduce violence, but he also noted the US supports the rights of free speech and protest.
"It's certainly fair to say that we would want to see, in the midst of all of this, respect for the right for people to freely assemble and to be able to express their views," Wood said.
Most of the arrests were made in the eastern province of Punjab, the power centre of popular opposition leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The government also imposed a ban on public gatherings in Punjab, following a similar ban in the southern Sindh province.