Pakistani Police Prevent Lawyer Protests

The Associated Press
Monday, November 5, 2007; 2:57 AM

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Hundreds of police firing tear gas and swinging batons clashed with lawyers Monday as security forces across Pakistan blockaded courts to prevent protests against President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's declaration of a state of emergency.

In the biggest gathering, about 2,000 lawyers congregated at the High Court in the eastern city of Lahore. As lawyers tried to exit onto a main road to stage a rally _ in defiance of a police warnings not to violate a ban on demonstrations _ hundreds of officers stormed inside.

Police swung batons and fired tear gas shells to disperse the lawyers, who responded by throwing stones and beating police with tree branches. The protesters shouted, "Go Musharraf Go!"

Police bundled about 250 lawyers into waiting vans, an Associated Press reporter saw. At least two were bleeding from the head.

"The lawyers initiated trouble by throwing stones at police, and it forced us to take action against them," said Aftab Cheema, the city police chief.

Sarfraz Cheema, a senior lawyer at the rally, condemned the police action. "This police brutality against peaceful lawyers shows how the government of a dictator wants to silence those who are against dictatorship," he said. "We don't accept the proclamation of emergency."

Smaller clashes were reported in Karachi and Multan as lawyers in major cities attempted to stage protests against Musharraf's emergency declaration on Saturday which he says was a response to growing militant Islamic movement and a court system that hindered his powers.

On Sunday, Gen. Pervez Musharraf's government said that parliamentary elections could be delayed up to a year as it tries to stamp out a growing Islamic militant threat _ effectively linking two of the greatest concerns of Pakistan's biggest international donors: the United States and Britain.

Increasingly concerned about the unfolding crisis, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Washington was reviewing billions of dollars in aid to its close terrorism-fighting ally. Britain is also examining its assistance.

"Some of the aid that goes to Pakistan is directly related to the counterterrorism mission," Rice told reporters traveling with her. "We just have to review the situation."

But, she said, she did not expect the U.S. "to ignore or set aside our concerns about terrorism."

In the southern city of Karachi, police used batons on Monday to drive more than 100 lawyers out of the compound of the provincial high court and then arrested them, said Rashid Rizvi, a senior lawyer and former judge.

He claimed that several wounded colleagues were being denied medical care in police custody.

"Musharraf is going to break up this country by imposing an emergency," Rizvi said.

Lawyers were the driving force behind protests earlier this year against the U.S.-allied military leader when he tried to fire Pakistan's independent-minded chief justice. The move tarnished Musharraf's standing and spawned a pro-democracy movement that threatened to end his eight-year rule.

Musharraf finally removed the judge, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, when he assumed emergency powers on Saturday, just as the court was preparing to rule whether the military chief's recent re-election as president was legal.

As well as calling for protests, lawyers groups have vowed to boycott all court proceedings held in front of new judges sworn in by Musharraf.

"Police have arrested hundreds of lawyers from various parts of Pakistan, but we will boycott the court and try to hold rallies where ever it is possible. We will do it to express our angers against Musharraf," said Latif Afridi, president of the bar council in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

In Multan, a central city, dozens of lawyers chased a car bringing two newly appointed judges to the high court there and chanted "Shame on you!" and "Traitor judges!"

An Associated Press reporter saw police swinging batons and detaining some of the demonstrators while others managed to flee. The two judges swiftly left the court again.

In an address to the nation late Saturday, Musharraf said the growth of a militant Islamic movement and a court system that hindered his powers forced him to declare a state of emergency, despite the urging of Western allies against authoritarian measures.

Less than 24 hours after the order was issued, militants in the Afghan border freed 211 captured Pakistani soldiers in exchange for the army's decision to free 28 insurgents, including some allegedly connected to suicide attacks, officials said.

Though they gave no explanation for the decision, it appeared to fly in the face of Musharraf's claims that emergency rule was needed to make sure terrorists _ dozens of whom he says have been freed by Pakistani courts _ stay off the streets.

Critics say Musharraf, a 1999 coup leader who had promised to give up his army post and become a civilian president this year, imposed emergency rule in a last-ditch attempt to cling to power.

His leadership is threatened by the Islamic militant movement that has spread from border regions to the capital, the reemergence of political rival and former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, and an increasingly defiant Supreme Court, which was expected to rule soon on the validity of his recent presidential election win. Hearings scheduled for next week were postponed indefinitely.

Attorney General Malik Mohammed Qayyum denied claims by Bhutto and others that Musharraf had imposed martial law _ direct rule by the army _ under the guise of a state of emergency. He noted the prime minister was still in place and that the legislature would complete its term next week.

Crucial parliamentary elections had been scheduled for January, but Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said the polls could be delayed up to a year. He said the extraordinary measures would be in place "as long as it is necessary."

Aziz said up to 500 people were detained nationwide in 24 hours.

Among them were Javed Hashmi, the acting president of the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif; cricket star-turned politician, Imran Khan; Asma Jehangir, chairman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; and Hamid Gul, former chief of the main intelligence agency and a critic of Musharraf.

Bhutto, who narrowly escaped assassination in an Oct. 18 suicide bombing that killed 145 others, scoffed at claims that Musharraf imposed the emergency measures to fight Islamic militants _ even though Muslim insurgents were widely blamed for the attempt on her life.

"Many people in Pakistan believe that it has nothing to do with stopping terrorism, and it has everything to do with stopping a court verdict that was coming against him," she told the weekend edition of ABC News' "Good Morning America."

The U.S. has provided about $11 billion to Pakistan since 2001, when Musharraf made a strategic shift to ally with the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks. Rice told reporters that Washington would review its aid in light of the new emergency measures, though the Pentagon earlier said the emergency rule would not affect its military support to the Muslim nation.

Britain also said it was examining if Musharraf's steps would affect the hundreds of millions of dollars in aid it has pledged to the south Asian nation.


Associated Press writers Robin McDowell and Zarar Khan in Islamabad, Ashraf Khan in Karachi, Khalid Tanweer in Multan and Zia Khan in Lahore contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Associated Press