Pakistani police baton-charge, teargas anti-Musharraf lawyers
September 29, 2007
ISLAMABAD (AFP) — Pakistani police used batons and teargas to disperse hundreds of lawyers protesting against President Pervez Musharraf's candidacy in next week's presidential election, officials and witnesses said.
Several lawyers were injured and around a dozen arrested during the noisy protest outside the Election Commission as Musharraf's nomination papers and those of other candidates were being scrutinised.
Around 900 lawyers rallied near the commission despite tight security and road blocks, a day after the Supreme Court ruled that Musharraf could stand in the October 6 poll while keeping his role as army chief.
Chanting "Go Musharraf, go" the lawyers tried to approach the commission building from the Supreme Court but riot police with shields and helmets blocked their way and scuffles broke out.
"Police beat up lawyers mercilessly and several of them were wounded," an AFP photographer said. At least two were seen with blood coming from head wounds.
Aitzaz Ahsan, the main lawyer for Pakistan's Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry during Chaudhry's battle against Musharraf's attempts to sack him earlier this year, said he was among those beaten.
"The brutality of General Musharraf is being seen worldwide. Only the blind governments of the United States and Britain cannot see it," Ahsan told AFP.
"I was targeted, the police were waiting for an opportunity. I tried to crouch down for safety but they started beating us viciously with batons," added Ahsan, who was a minister under Benazir Bhutto in the 1990s.
Plainclothes police were seen taking into custody Ali Ahmad Kurd, another senior leader of the lawyers' movement.
Police also arrested nearly two dozen opposition party activists in a raid on an apartment block for parliamentarians as they prepared to head to the Election Commission, they said.
"There is a ban on gatherings of five or more people in the capital territory and we are not going to allow anyone flout this law," a senior Islamabad police official told AFP.
Another 500 lawyers later rallied in the eastern city of Lahore to protest the beatings of their colleagues in Islamabad.
Musharraf has been on a collision course with lawyers and the judiciary since his botched bid to oust Chaudhry as chief justice in March, a move that sparked mass rallies across the country.
But the Supreme Court on Friday dismissed opposition petitions challenging Musharraf's right to contest the controversial election while he still heads the army.
Immediately after the verdict protesters pelted the Supreme Court with tomatoes and rotten eggs.
Musharraf filed his nomination papers for the elections on Thursday and is almost certain to win, given that the election involves the national and provincial parliaments, in which his allies hold a majority.
Two rivals -- a retired judge who refused to swear allegiance to Musharraf after the 1999 coup in which he seized power and a senior member of Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party -- have also registered to run.
Election Commission officials said they had approved the candidacy papers for the lawyers' presidential nominee, retired judge Wajihuddin Ahmedand, and for the deputy leader of Bhutto's party.
"The scrutiny of President Musharraf's papers is being conducted now," said deputy information minister Tariq Azeem.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and other government stalwarts were at the Election Commission during the scrutiny.