Sunday, November 4, 2007

500 Pakistanis detained

Police and soldiers emboldened by state of emergency powers swept up hundreds of activists and opposition members on Sunday, dragged away protesters shouting "Shame on you!", and turned government buildings into barbed-wire compounds.

Gen. Pervez Musharraf's government said parliamentary elections could be delayed up to a year as it tries to stamp out a growing Islamic militant threat — effectively linking two of the greatest concerns of Pakistan's biggest international donors: the United States and Britain.

Increasingly concerned about the unfolding crisis, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Washington was reviewing billions of dollars in aid to its close terrorism-fighting ally. Britain is also examining its assistance.

"Some of the aid that goes to Pakistan is directly related to the counterterrorism mission," Rice told reporters traveling with her. "We just have to review the situation."

But, she said, she did not expect the U.S. "to ignore or set aside our concerns about terrorism."

Scores of paramilitary troops blocked access to the Supreme Court and parliament. Streets in the capital appeared largely calm, with only a handful of demonstrations. But one, attended by 40 people at the Marriott Hotel, was broken up by baton-wielding police.

"Shame on you! Go Musharraf go!" the protesters shouted as officers dragged some out of the crowd and forced them to the ground. Eight were taken away in a van.

Others were apathetic. Standing at on a dusty street corner in Islamabad, Togul Khan, 38, said he didn't care about the emergency declaration.

"For us, life stays the same, even when politicians throw Pakistan into the sky, spin it around and watch as it crashes back down to earth," the day laborer said as he waited for work.

In an address to the nation late Saturday, Musharraf said the growth of a militant Islamic movement and a court system that hindered his powers forced him to declare a state of emergency, despite the urging of Western allies against authoritarian measures.

Less than 24 hours after the order was issued, militants in the Afghan border freed 211 captured Pakistani soldiers in exchange for the army's decision to free 28 insurgents, including some allegedly connected to suicide attacks, officials said.

Though they gave no explanation for the decision, it appeared to fly in the face of Musharraf's claims that emergency rule was needed to make sure terrorists — dozens of whom he says have been freed by Pakistani courts — stay off the streets.

Critics say Musharraf, a 1999 coup leader who had promised to give up his army post and become a civilian president this year, imposed emergency rule in a last-ditch attempt to cling to power.

His leadership is threatened by the Islamic militant movement that has spread from border regions to the capital, the reemergence of political rival and former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, and an increasingly defiant Supreme Court, which was expected to rule soon on the validity of his recent presidential election win. Hearings scheduled for next week were postponed indefinitely.

Attorney General Malik Mohammed Qayyum denied claims by Bhutto and others that Musharraf had imposed martial law — direct rule by the army — under the guise of a state of emergency. He noted the prime minister was still in place and that the legislature would complete its term next week.

Crucial parliamentary elections had been scheduled for January, but Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said the polls could be delayed up to a year. He said the extraordinary measures would be in place "as long as it is necessary."

In Islamabad, phone service that was cut Saturday evening appeared to have been restored by Sunday morning, but television news networks other than state-controlled Pakistan TV remained off the air.

Aziz said up to 500 people were detained nationwide in 24 hours.

Well, this is just great. Tianamen Square and Myanmar all over again. That guy holding up the peace sign is one of the detained activists. One of 500.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comments are valued greatly. Please adhere to the decorum on the "First time here?" page. Comments that are in violation of any of the rules will be deleted without notice.

3/11 Update - No Moderation

*Non-anonymous commenting is preferred to avoid mix-ups. Anonymous comments are, at the behest of management, more likely to be deleted than non-anonymous comments.