Pakistan: More than 1,500 lawyers arrested across the country

Karachi, 5 Nov. (AKI) - (by Syed Saleem Shahzad) - More than 1,500 lawyers were arrested across Pakistan on Monday as they demonstrated against the imposition of emergency rule by President Pervez Musharraf.

Reports say that there were fierce clashes between the police and the lawyers and police used tear gas and batons to suppress demonstrations in three major cities - Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi.

Monday's arrests followed the detention at the weekend of hundreds of opposition politicians, activists and judges.

President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency on Saturday saying that the country must fight rising extremism. He suspended the constitution, replaced the country's chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry and blacked out independent TV channels.

Critics however believe that Musharraf was pre-empting a judgement expected this week by the Supreme Court on whether his re-election in October was legal. The court had been due to meet on Monday to hear the challenges against Musharraf's re-election.

In the port city of Karachi in Pakistan's Sindh province, the lawyers gathered outside the High Court on Monday morning to welcome the provinces' top judge, Chief Justice Sabihuddin Ahmed, who had rejected the Provisional Constitutional Order issued by Musharraf on Saturday.

However Ahmed, like many others had been placed under house arrest before the protests began on Monday.

The lawyers began shouting slogans such as "Go Musharraf Go" and "Tyrant's laws are unacceptable".

A senior police official then gave the order for the officers to break up the protests. Batons were used against the protesting lawyers and many were arrested.

“All the police stations of Karachi are now full with the members of the legal fraternity," a senior constitutional lawyer, Syed Hafizuddin, told Adnkronos International (AKI).

"At least 300 lawyers alone have been arrested from different district courts of the city, besides the Sindh High Court," said Hafizuddin, who is also leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the party of the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

Lawyers' associations across the country said they were calling three days of protests and boycotts of the courts.

Reports say that a massive crackdown on journalists was also expected later today. TV channels have been blacked out and the government has released on order saying that no reporters will be allowed to write or talk about the government and the armed forces.

However newspapers in Pakistan appear to be ignoring government restrictions.

The leaders of several opposition parties have been arrested, including Javed Hashmi, Zafar Iqbal Jhagra, and Khawaja Asif from the PML-N, the leaders of the Islamic party, Jamaat-i-Islami Pakistan, Fareed Ahmed Paracha and Ameerul Azeem as well as the leaders of the Tehrik-i-Insaaf party Hamid Khan including its chief, the former cricketeer, Imran Khan.

Khan however managed to escape from house arrest and is believed to be in hiding, waiting for a moment to lead mass protests on the street.

As for the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) led by former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, some reports say that party activists have been arrested. But a PPP spokesperson, Jameel Soomro, told AKI that "so far none of our senior leaders have been arrested."

Bhutto returned to Pakistan last month after eight years of self-imposed exile. She was believed to have been in power-sharing talks with Musharraf and reports say that she was due to hold talks with a presidential aide on Monday. Bhutto has attacked the the state of emergency as "undemocratic" and saying it would only encourage Islamic extremists.

Aitzaz Ahsan, a PPP member of parliament, who had distanced himself from the reconciliation talks with Musharraf and became the president of Bar Council, was arrested on Sunday.

Rumours were also rife that Musharraf had sacked the newly appointed vice-chief of the army General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani and that the president himself was under house arrest.

However a senior government official told the AFP news agency that the rumour was not true and that Musharraf was at the presidential palace.


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