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Fierce resistance targeted in Pakistan

Musharraf crackdown quells angry protesters

Pakistani riot police charged lawyers rallying against President Pervez Musharraf's emergency rule yesterday in Lahore. Pakistani riot police charged lawyers rallying against President Pervez Musharraf's emergency rule yesterday in Lahore. (arif ali/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Email|Print| Text size + By Jane Perlez and David Rohde
New York Times News Service / November 6, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Angry protests by thousands of lawyers in Lahore and other cities yesterday demonstrated the first organized resistance to the emergency rule imposed by the Pakistani president, General Pervez Musharraf. But the abrupt arrests of many of them threatened to weaken their challenge.

The real test of whether the opposition to Musharraf will prevail appears to be several days off. The leader of the biggest opposition political party, Benazir Bhutto, has pledged to lead a major protest rally Friday in Rawalpindi, the garrison city adjacent to Islamabad, the capital.

The Musharraf government's resolve to silence its fiercest opponents was evident in the strength of the crackdown by baton-wielding police officers who pummeled lawyers and then hauled them by the legs and arms into police wagons in Lahore.

At one point, lawyers and police officers clashed in a pitched battle, with lawyers standing on the roof of the High Court throwing stones at the police below, and the police hurling them back. Some of the lawyers were bleeding from the head, and some passed out in the clouds of tear gas.

It was the second time this year that Pakistan's lawyers emerged as the vanguard of resistance to the Musharraf government. In the spring, the lawyers mounted big rallies in major cities when Musharraf tried to dismiss the chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who has now been fired.

How long the lawyers can keep up their revolt now without the support of opposition political parties, which so far have been lying low, remains in question.

There were conflicting estimates of the number of lawyers in jail in Lahore last night. Some lawyers said as many as 500 to 700 of their colleagues were in custody, scattered in groups in various police cells and jails.

In all, about 2,000 people have been rounded up since the imposition of emergency rule Saturday night, lawyers and legal and political analysts said. Musharraf said in his emergency edict that he was taking the action as chief of the Pakistani Army, not as president, a fact that made his move akin to martial law, said Daniel Markey, senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

But Musharraf stopped short of taking some steps characteristic of martial law, like shutting down parliament, he said. The main points of Musharraf's emergency order were the suspension of the constitution, the dissolution of the Supreme Court and the provincial High Courts, and the silencing of privately owned television news channels.

Bhutto, a former prime minister and the leader of the country's biggest secular political party, the Pakistan Peoples Party, said she would come to the capital today from her home in Karachi, where she has been since returning to Pakistan as emergency rule was imposed Saturday night.

She insisted that a rally planned by her party would go ahead Friday in Rawalpindi. It would be staged as a protest rather than as a political rally, she said in a telephone interview from Karachi. "We decided this would be a protest meeting where we would protest the imposition of military rule," she said. "This protest movement will continue until the constitution is restored."

The demonstrations were not confined to Lahore. In Multan, a city in the same province, Punjab, as Lahore, two new judges who had taken the oath of office under the emergency rule were forced to leave the courtroom by hundreds of angry lawyers.

"We threatened them, saying: 'You've taken an unconstitutional oath; if you don't go we will throw eggs at you.' They left," said a lawyer from Multan, Riaz Gilani.

Some lawyers in Islamabad and Rawalpindi said they stayed away from the courts because they had been warned they would be arrested and possibly beaten.

Despite the warnings, more than 100 lawyers demonstrated outside Islamabad's main court complex yesterday. The lawyers in black suits and ties shouted "Musharraf dog" and "A baton and a bullet will not do."

Haroon Rashid, the president of the Islamabad Bar Association, instructed lawyers not to attack police officers who were watching them because the association did not want to give the police cause to arrest them, he said.

The pressure on the lawyers is far more intense now than it was even in the spring, when their anger had been stoked by Musharraf's attempt to dismiss the chief justice. The step was seen as a direct threat to the independence of the judiciary.

With the emergency decree, Musharraf has fired the entire Supreme Court. Many of its 17 judges, including Chaudhry, have been sidelined from protesting or political activity since they are now under house arrest. Judges in the four provincial High Courts were also fired.

In their place, the Musharraf government has tried to reconstitute the courts by swearing in new judges loyal to the government. Only five judges have taken the oath for the 17-seat Supreme Court, and there are many gaps in the other High Courts.

Feisal Naqvi, a Lahore lawyer, and other lawyers said they believed that the battle against the government could not be won on the streets. Rather, they said, the fight should focus on undermining the newly constituted courts from inside the courthouses.

One goal of the lawyers, Naqvi said, is to paralyze the new courts. "The fundamental point is not to allow the Supreme Court and the High Courts to operate," he said.

A monitoring system was being considered under which lawyers would patrol the courts and urge their colleagues not to appear before the new judges. "There should be no acceptance of the new judges," Naqvi said.

Chaudhry is unable to leave his Islamabad house, which according to colleagues is filled with police and intelligence officials. "Everything that is happening today is illegal, unconstitutional and against the orders of the Supreme Court," he said in an interview that was reported yesterday by a newspaper, The News.

A Supreme Court justice, Rana Bhagwandas, who is also under house arrest, said in a telephone interview that the United States should press for the restoration of democracy in Pakistan.

"The United States is a democratic government, and democratic governments should work for democratic values across the globe," Bhagwandas said. "Pakistan is no exception."

In the first practical sign of displeasure about Musharraf's move, the United States announced it had suspended annual defense talks with Pakistan.

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