INTERVIEW
 
Pakistan police clash with lawyers
Al-Jazeera
November 5, 2007
Pakistani police have assaulted lawyers and political activists protesting against the emergency rule imposed by Pervez Musharraf, the country's president.

Around 2,000 lawyers gathered on Monday in the eastern city of Lahore as police warned them not to violate a ban on rallies in Pakistan.

Clashes intensified as hundreds of police entered the high court and fired tear gas as they attacked the lawyers inside the building. Several lawyers were wounded when police launched a baton charge, witnesses said.

"Police lobbed more than a dozen tear gas shells at lawyers who had gathered in the high court and then beat them with batons," Sheikh Faisal, a lawyer at the court, told AFP by telephone.

Elsewhere, in Rawalpindi riot police sealed off courts and made arrests, with witnesses saying that they saw police beat a photographer and snatch his camera. In Karachi, protesting 100 lawyers were beaten with batons and arrested after police and paramilitary soldiers sealed off the high court and barred journalists and lawyers from entering.

One police officer said: "We have been ordered to remain on duty here, we cannot comment on arrests." Witnesses said Karachi police also cordoned off the house of Sabihuddin Ahmed, the Sindh high court's former chief justice, who had been removed under the emergency rules, and arrested his son during the protests.

Senior lawyer held

The Karachi Bar Association said Iftikhar Javed Qazi, its president, was among those arrested. Clashes were also reported in Multan. Al Jazeera's correspondent Nadim Baba, reporting from the capital Islamabad, said lawyers had cancelled planned protests because they were prevented by the police from approaching the supreme court.

Jamaat-e-Islami, a main Islamic opposition party, said the authorities detained 600-700 of its supporters in southern and central provinces overnight.

The assaults and arrests around the country came a day after security forces rounded up more than 500 opposition supporters. Police had already arrested 400-500 political opponents and opposition lawyers by Sunday as a "preventive" measure.

Bhutto factor

Ishtiaq Ahmad, a Pakistani analyst, told Al Jazeera on Monday that even though scores of opposition members had been placed under house arrest for resisting emergency rule, one main opposition member had not.

Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister, who returned to Pakistan after eight years in exile, was not among the detained, he said.

"Although she has publicly opposed the imposition of emergency, equating it with martial law, she has not been arrested or put under house arrest.

"This proves that the government has some kind of a soft corner for her."

Bhutto is expected to travel on Monday to Islamabad, where she says she will seek talks with other opposition leaders on how to counter Musharraf's move. Most judges, including Iftikhar Chaudhry, the supreme court chief justice, have been fired since the imposition of emergency rule on Saturday. He has been replaced by a Musharraf loyalist.

Elections in balance

Shaukat Aziz, the prime minister, said on Sunday that Pakistan was committed to holding elections, but he could not say when. He noted that under the terms of an emergency, parliament's term, due to expire this month, could be extended for a year.

The same day, Malik Mohammed Qayyum, the attorney-general, said that a new panel of supreme court judges would rule "as early as possible" on Musharraf's eligibility for a new five-year presidential term. He also said Musharraf remained committed to his pledge to give up his uniform and restore civilian rule before he is sworn in again as president.

Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary-of-state voiced disappointment on Sunday with Musharraf's decision to implement emergency rule. "The United States has never put all of its chips on Musharraf," she said. But Rice said she did not expect the US "to ignore or set aside our concerns about terrorism".

Pakistan's security situation has deteriorated since July, when armed fighters stormed the Red Mosque in Islamabad to crush a Taliban-style movement. Since then nearly 800 people have been killed in violence, which has included more than 23 suicide attacks.

Access interview at aljazeera.net