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Lawyers Take On Musharraf

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By Griff Witte
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, November 6, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 5 -- Lawyers across Pakistan demonstrated by the thousands Monday, demanding an end to emergency rule and vowing to keep up their dissent until President Pervez Musharraf resigns.

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While some political opponents and rights activists also participated in the protests -- the most significant since Musharraf declared emergency rule Saturday -- it was the lawyers who dominated. In recent months, they have clashed repeatedly with a government they accuse of interfering with the judiciary, and on Monday, they voiced outrage over the president's decision to suspend the constitution and fire a group of dissident Supreme Court justices.

The Pakistani government made clear that it would brook no opposition, swiftly deploying police with tear gas and batons to beat back demonstrators.

Political parties are expected to join the protests in the coming days, although it remains unclear to what extent members will turn out in the streets. Opposition leaders said that several thousand party activists, human rights advocates and lawyers have been taken into custody since Saturday in a bid by the government to snuff out the anti-government movement before it can gain traction.

Meanwhile, authorities defied mounting domestic and international pressure to end emergency rule and schedule parliamentary elections that are supposed to be held by January. President Bush urged Pakistan to "restore democracy as quickly as possible," but stopped short of saying that the moves by Musharraf, a top U.S. ally in counterterrorism efforts, would affect U.S. aid.

The largest rally Monday took place in the eastern city of Lahore, where lawyers and police battled at the city's High Court complex. Several lawyers were injured, and hundreds were arrested. Musharraf adversaries said larger protests are expected later this week.

"We are determined that until there is freedom for the judges and the overturn of emergency rule, this war will continue," said Anwar Shaheen, a lawyer in Lahore. "They can't quiet us."

Clashes between authorities and protesters also took place Monday in Islamabad, the capital, the northwestern city of Peshawar, the southern city of Karachi and elsewhere. "Today we make a solemn pledge that we will continue our struggle till our last breath," Fida Gul, a lawyer, told a rowdy group of protesters in Peshawar.

For several hours Monday, reports circulated across the country that Musharraf had been overthrown by a group of subordinate generals. The rumors proved untrue, but that did not stop some people from distributing sweets in celebration, and they underscored the air of uncertainty that prevails in Pakistan.

Musharraf said in an interview with the Reuters news agency that the report of his ouster was "a joke of the highest order," adding that he planned to play tennis later in the day.

On Saturday, Musharraf said he had declared an emergency in the interest of fighting terrorism. But top Musharraf aides have conceded that his primary motivation was an impending Supreme Court decision that would have disqualified him from serving another term.

Musharraf aides have said the government has no plans to use the emergency to launch an offensive against insurgents in the northwest, where the military has suffered embarrassing losses recently. On Sunday, authorities freed 30 Taliban fighters in exchange for more than 200 captured soldiers, even as police continued to round up activists from the mainstream political parties.


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