The Hindu : Protests spread across Pakistan

Monday, November 05, 2007

Protests spread across Pakistan

Lawyers take to streets again; return to constitutional path, says Rice

November 5, 2007

Defying emergency: Riot police beat up a lawyer during a demonstration in Lahore on Monday as protests against the Emergency erupted in a number of cities across Pakistan.

Islamabad/Washington: Baton-wielding police on Monday fired tear gas and clashed with thousands of lawyers protesting against President Pervez Musharraf’s decision to impose Emergency rule, as Western allies in the “war on terror” threatened to review aid to, and ties with, Pakistan.

More than 1,500 people have been arrested all over Pakistan since Saturday, when a state of Emergency was declared.

Gen. Musharraf laughed off rumours that the Army had placed him under house arrest. He promised foreign diplomats at a meeting that elections would be held and defended his decision to impose Emergency, but gave no dates.

He told envoys at his official residence that the “superior judiciary had paralysed various organs of the state and created impediments in the fight against terrorism.” He accused the country’s independent media of helping the cause of extremists “by showing the gory scenes of suicide bombings that encouraged these elements to carry on with their heinous acts.”

General elections due by mid-January will be held “on schedule” despite a state of emergency, state media quoted Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz also as saying on Monday. “The next general elections will be held according to the schedule,” the Associated Press of Pakistan quoted Mr. Aziz as saying.

Foreign governments, which had urged Gen. Musharraf not to impose Emergency rule, stepped up pressure on the General, who faces waning domestic support.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Washington was reviewing its assistance to Pakistan, which has received billions of dollars in aid since Gen. Musharraf threw his support behind the U.S.-led “war on terror” after the September 11, 2001, attacks. At a news conference in the West Bank on Monday, she urged Gen. Musharraf to follow through on past promises to “take off his uniform.”

“I want to be very clear,” she said. “We believe that the best path for Pakistan is to quickly return to a constitutional path and then to hold elections.”

The U.S. warned Gen. Musharraf that “our relationship will not remain the same” unless he reverses course on the Emergency and steers back to democracy. U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said in Washington, “It is our hope that this decision will be reversed in short order.”

Lawyers attempted to stage rallies in major cities, but were beaten and arrested. In the biggest of several gatherings, about 2,000 lawyers congregated at the High Court in Lahore. As they tried to exit on to a main road, hundreds of police personnel stormed inside, swinging batons and firing tear gas. Lawyers, shouting “Go Musharraf Go!” responded by throwing stones and beating the police personnel with tree branches. The police bundled about 250 lawyers into waiting vans. At least two of them were bleeding from the head.