Sunday, November 04, 2007

Thousands Arrested - Pakistan Emergency

Left: Pakistani policemen arrest human rights activists who were trying to march towards ousted chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry's residence during a protest in Islamabad, November 4, 2007. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf tightened a state of emergency in Pakistan on 04 November, as police rounded up hundreds of opponents and the government warned it could delay key elections for a year.

Thousands rounded up in Pakistan, elections under threat

President Pervez Musharraf tightened a state of emergency in Pakistan on Sunday, as police rounded up Thousands of opponents and the government warned it could delay key elections for a year.

Defying international condemnation, military ruler Musharraf on Saturday suspended the constitution, sacked the chief justice and imposed strict media curbs in the nuclear-armed nation of 160 million people.

Musharraf accused the judiciary and Islamic militants of destabilising the country, saying he had acted to stop Pakistan from committing "suicide" and appealing for understanding from his Western allies.

Troops and police poured into Islamabad and surrounded the Supreme Court, which had been due within days to rule on the legality of Musharraf's victory in an October 6 presidential election.

The government said Sunday that parliamentary polls scheduled for January could be put back, amid fears that Islamic militants may retaliate with further attacks and that tensions between Musharraf and the army could escalate.

"We are still deliberating. The parliament could give itself more time, up to a year, in terms of holding the next election," Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told reporters.

Aziz said up to 500 people had been detained across Pakistan in the past 24 hours. Officials said they included opposition leaders, rights activists and lawyers. However the BBC is reporting hundreds more have been detained.

The United States led global criticism of the emergency declaration with Rice announcing the aid review. It has been reported that British and American officials will be presenting General Pervez Musharraf with an ultimatum urging him to hold elections as scheduled.

"We are going to review aid," Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice told journalists during a trip to the Middle East.

"But we do have concerns, continuing counter-terrorism concerns, and we have to be able to protect American citizens by continuing to fight against terrorists," she said.

Earlier Musharraf, a key US ally in the fight against Al-Qu'aida and the Taliban, insisted he had no choice.

"Inaction at this moment is suicide for Pakistan, and I cannot allow this country to commit suicide," he said in a late-night televised address.

Police and paramilitary soldiers on Sunday set up barricades and unrolled coils of barbed wire to block access to the parliament, presidential residence and Supreme Court buildings.

Security forces fanned out nearby, setting up posts near the state-run radio headquarters, television stations and luxury hotels. Shops were open but traffic was thin and markets were quiet.

Pakistani media were incensed by the developments, with the Daily Times declaring: "It is martial law."

"We are heading for a very uncertain time because this coup will be challenged by political parties. This will also build strain between him and the military," political analyst Hasan Askari said.

Police arrested Javed Hashmi, acting chief of the Pakistan Muslim League-N party of former premier Nawaz Sharif, and leading rights activist Asma Jahangir after earlier detaining cricketer- turned- politician Imran Khan.

Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who rushed home from Dubai on Saturday night, branded Musharraf's emergency declaration an attempt to impose martial law -- but did not rule out a proposed power-sharing deal with him.

"It all depends on whether General Musharraf restores the constitution immediately and forms an independent election commission for the holding of fair, free and impartial elections," she told the BBC from Karachi.

Speaking later to US network CBS, Bhutto accused Musharraf of staging a "second coup" after first seizing power in 1999.

Musharraf's first decisive step after announcing the state of emergency was to replace outspoken chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, a thorn in his side since the general first tried to sack him in March.

The new chief justice, Hameed Dogar, cancelled Chaudhry's caseload.

As well as considering legal challenges to Musharraf's election, Chaudhry had been hearing hundreds of human rights appeals from families of people who went missing over the last four years because of alleged Al-Qaeda links.

Police on Sunday surrounded a compound where Chaudhry and other judges live. More than 20 of the 28 Justices have refused to take an oath to uphold the Constitutional Proclamation Order canceling the constitution.

Musharraf had pledged to step down as army chief by November 15 if he won the election and the court upheld it, but that now appears unlikely.

The White House called emergency rule "very disappointing." China, one of Pakistan's closest allies, voiced concern and said it hoped stability could be maintained. Pakistan's neighbour and nuclear rival India expressed "regrets."

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