CBC : Opposition politicians, lawyers rounded up in Pakistan: report

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Opposition politicians, lawyers rounded up in Pakistan: report

President says judiciary was interfering with his fight against militants

November 3, 2007

Pakistani police arrested opposition politicians, including the leader of exiled former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's party, as part a crackdown following President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's declaration of a state of emergency, Reuters reported Sunday.

In a move that sparked outcries from political opponents and the international community on Saturday, Musharraf also replaced the chief justice of the country's Supreme Court and had authorities round up opposition figues, cut phone lines in the capital Islamabad and took all but state television off the air.

The order effectively suspends the country's constitution before a crucial Supreme Court ruling on Musharraf's future as president. The high court has been hearing constitutional arguments against his re-election last month.

In September, Sharif was deported only hours after he returned to his home country after seven years of exile after being ousted by Musharraf in a 1999 coup.

"Musharraf's days are numbered. Time has come to end the political role of the army," Reuters quoted Javed Hashmi, acting president of Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League, as telling reporters before being whisked away by police in the central city of Multan.

In a national address Saturday, Musharraf insisted his actions were necessary to curb a rise in extremism in Pakistan, as well as judicial paralysis.

"I suspect that Pakistan's sovereignty is in danger unless timely action is taken," said Musharraf, who was wearing civilian clothes and spoke firmly and calmly.

"Pakistan is on the verge of destabilization … Inaction at this moment is suicide for Pakistan and I cannot allow this country to commit suicide."
Musharraf 'turning the clock back': Bhutto

In an interview with CBC News late Saturday from Karachi, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto accused Musharraf of taking Pakistan away from democracy and "turning the clock back towards dictatorship."

"If you really want to get rid of extremism, you have to get rid of dictatorship," Bhutto said. "It's an unfortunate day in our country's history."

Bhutto, who was in Dubai when Musharraf issued the order, recently ended eight years in exile and has been in talks with Musharraf's camp about countering Islamic extremism by coming together to form a possible pro-Western alliance after parliamentary elections, which were slated for January.

It is not known whether the state of emergency will delay or cancel the elections.

Another opposition politician, former cricketer Imran Khan, told the BBC he had been placed under house arrest.

Bhutto, who held a press conference at her residence in Karachi after her arrival in Pakistan, said she would hold talks with other opposition parties to "build the domestic pressure" against Musharraf to reverse the decision and hold the elections on schedule.

The order also drew swift complaints from the United States and Britain — Musharraf's main Western allies.

"The U.S. has made clear it does not support extraconstitutional measures because those measures take Pakistan away from the path of democracy and civilian rule," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said.

However, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Musharraf's declaration does not affect U.S. military support of Pakistan, which Morrell called "a very important ally in the war on terror."

Meanwhile, Ottawa officially condemned the crackdown urged its government to reinstate judges and allow free elections.

In a statement released Saturday, Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier called for all sides to refrain from violence and respect human rights. The Foreign Affairs Department also issued an official travel warning advising Canadians against all travel to Pakistan.

Seven of the 18 Supreme Court judges immediately condemned the emergency measures.

"Under the constitutional order, judges will have to swear allegiance to the emergency powers," freelance journalist Graham Usher told CBC News. "Any judge who does not do that can be dismissed."

Justice Hameed Dogar replaced Iftekhar Chaudhry as the country's chief justice. Musharraf tried to remove Chaudhry from the bench in March over alleged abuse of authority, but the court declared the suspension illegal and reinstated him in July after a series of street protests.

Chaudhry has been outspoken in defending the independence of the judiciary.

With files from the Associated Press