Monday, November 5, 2007

Situation in Pakistan turns violent

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan --Police fired tear gas and clubbed thousands of lawyers
protesting President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's decision to impose emergency rule,
as Western allies threatened to review aid to the troubled Muslim nation. More
than 1,500 people have been arrested in 48 hours, and authorities put a
stranglehold on independent media.
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 independent-minded judges and granted sweeping powers to
authorities to crush dissent.
Though public anger was mounting in the nation
of 160 million people, which has been under military rule for much of its
60-year history, demonstrations so far have been limited largely to activists,
rights workers and lawyers. All have been quickly and sometimes brutally stamped
President Bush's top national security aides said U.S. financial backing
for Pakistan's counterterrorism efforts likely will go uninterrupted despite the
administration's unhappiness with Musharraf's declaration of a state of
Pakistan has received billions of dollars in aid since Musharraf
threw his support behind the U.S.-led war on terror after the Sept. 11, 2001,
attacks. Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggested that military aid may not be
affected because the administration does not want to disrupt its partnership
with Pakistan in fighting al-Qaida and other militants.
But Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice urged Musharraf to follow through on past promises to
"take off his uniform."
"We believe that the best path for Pakistan is to
quickly return to a constitutional path and then to hold elections," said Rice,
who earlier indicated that some of the non-military aid to Pakistan would be
A team of U.S. defense officials postponed plans to travel to
Islamabad for talks Tuesday because of the crisis. Britain said it was reviewing
its aid package to Pakistan, and the Dutch government suspended its aid on
Monday, becoming the first country to do so.
Musharraf reiterated to foreign
ambassadors Monday that he was committed to complete the transition to
democracy, though, under a state of emergency, parliamentary elections scheduled
for January could be pushed back by up to a year, according to the government.
The attorney-general called Monday for polls to be held on time, and Prime
Minister Shaukat Aziz said the government hoped that would happen but made no
commitment on a date.
"It is our wish that the elections should be held
according to the program," he said.
Critics say Musharraf 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 has been virtually
decimated in the last two days.
Since late Saturday, between 1,500 and 1,800
people have been detained nationwide, an Interior Ministry official said on
condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. They
include opposition leaders, lawyers and human rights activists who might
mobilize protests.
At least 173 workers and supporters of Bhutto -- who has
held talks in recent months with Musharraf over an alliance to fight extremism
-- were arrested, said Pakistan People's Party spokesman Farhatullah
Lawyers, who were the driving force behind protests earlier this year
when Musharraf tried unsuccessfully to fire independent-minded chief justice
Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, attempted to stage rallies in major cities on
Monday, but were beaten and arrested.
Chaudhry was removed from his post on
Saturday, just as the Supreme Court was preparing to rule on the validity of
Musharraf's Oct. 6 re-election. Opponents say he should be disqualified because
he contested the vote as army chief.
In the biggest gathering Monday, about
2,000 lawyers congregated at the High Court in the eastern city of Lahore. As
lawyers tried to exit onto a main road, hundreds of police stormed inside,
swinging batons and firing tear gas. Lawyers, shouting "Go Musharraf Go!"
responded by throwing stones and beating police with tree branches.

Pictured are the Pakistani police. Intimidating, right? Well, who didn't see this one coming? Yet another violent conflict. What a wonderful world.

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