Pakistan Police Clash With Lawyers

The Associated Press
Tuesday, November 6, 2007; 1:47 AM

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Police fired tear gas and clubbed lawyers protesting Monday against President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's emergency rule. The U.S. and other nations called for elections to be held on schedule and said they were reviewing aid to Pakistan.

In the largest protest in the eastern city of Lahore, lawyers dressed in black suits and ties chanted "Musharraf Go!" as they defied the government's ban on rallies. Some fought back with stones and tree branches.

The crackdown mainly targeted Musharraf's most potent critics _ the judiciary and lawyers, independent television stations and opposition activists. Opposition groups said 3,500 had been arrested, though the government reported half that total.

President Bush urged Musharraf to hold parliamentary elections as scheduled in January and to take steps to relinquish his army post. "Our hope is that he will restore democracy as quickly as possible," Bush said.

But there did not appear to be a unified position among senior government officials on when elections would be held. The attorney general said Monday the vote would take place as scheduled, but then conceded there was a chance of a delay.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said he would chair a Cabinet meeting later Tuesday to try to hammer out a timeline, but stressed that an agreement still needed to be reached on how to hold elections "in a smooth, transparent and peaceful manner."

Thousands have turned out to protest the state of emergency, but demonstrations so far have been limited largely to opposition activists, rights workers and lawyers. There does not appear to be a groundswell of popular resistance and all the rallies have been quickly and sometimes brutally stamped out.

On Tuesday, hundreds of lawyers defied a stepped-up security presence and demonstrated again, some chanting "Musharraf Go!" as they wound through the streets of the capital, Islamabad. Others yelled "Musharraf is a criminal _ we will not accept uniforms or bullets!" and "Traitor!"

Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup and is also head of Pakistan's army, suspended the constitution on Saturday ahead of a Supreme Court ruling on whether his recent re-election as president was legal. He ousted seven independent-minded Supreme Court judges, put a stranglehold on independent media and granted sweeping powers to authorities to crush dissent.

Musharraf's leadership is threatened by the Islamic militant movement that has spread from border regions to the capital, the reemergence of political rivals, including former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, and an increasingly defiant Supreme Court.

The court has emerged as the chief check on Musharraf, who has been promising democracy ever since he seized power. The judiciary has proved surprisingly independent for a country that has been under military rule for most of the 60 years since it was founded.

The emergency decree appeared aimed primarily at heading off any Supreme Court challenge to Musharraf prolonging his eight-year rule.

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© 2007 The Associated Press