Lawyers, protesters beaten up, held in Pak

• Pakistan denies rumours Musharraf is under house arrest

• Musharraf briefs foreign envoys

Islamabad, November 5:

Legions of baton-wielding police clashed with lawyers to squash protests against President Gen Pervez Musharraf today, while international pressure mounted against the imposition of emergency powers that have led to more than 1,500 arrests.

Pakistan’s main stock market dropped 4.3 per cent on rumours that Musharraf had been put under house arrest by the vice-chief of the army, which the US-allied leader “laughed off,” Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azim said. He said Musharraf was at his official residence in Islamabad.

“It’s nonsense, sheer baseless rumour,” Musharraf’s spokesman Rashid Qureshi told AFP. “It’s a complete hoax, totally baseless and malicious. People will treat it with the total contempt it deserves,” Azim said.

“The president has just administered an oath to the federal sharia (Islamic law) judge and before that he briefed foreign diplomats on the situation,” Azim added.

Musharraf briefed foreign ambassadors today, saying the “superior judiciary paralyzed various organs of the state and created impediments in the fight against terrorism,” state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported. Musharraf, however, reiterated that he would complete the transition to democracy. His government said yesterday parliamentary elections could be delayed up to a year.

Lawyers attempted to stage rallies in major cities today, but were beaten and arrested. In the biggest gathering, 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.

Police bundled about 250 lawyers into waiting vans, an Associated Press reporter saw. At least two were bleeding from the head. Aftab Cheema, the city police chief, said lawyers started the trouble by throwing stones, but Sarfraz Cheema, a senior lawyer at the rally, condemned it as police brutality that “shows how the government of a dictator wants to silence those who are against dictatorship.” “We don’t accept the proclamation of emergency.” Clashes were also reported in Karachi, where 100 lawyers were arrested; in Rawalpindi at least 50 were detained; and in Multan, dozens of lawyers chased a car bringing two newly appointed judges to the high court.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Washington was reviewing its aid to Pakistan. Britain also said it was examining its assistance.

“Some of the aid that goes to Pakistan is directly related to the counterterrorism mission,” Rice said on a trip to the Middle East. “We just have to review the situation.” But Rice said she did not expect the US “to ignore or set aside our concerns about terrorism.”

UN chief alarmed

UNITED NATIONS: UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who is “greatly concerned” about the imposition of emergency rule in Pakistan, has urged the country’s authorities to free those detained and

return to democratic rule, his spokeswoman said on Monday.

“The secretary-general is greatly concerned about the recent developments in Pakistan and the imposition of emergency rule,” spokeswoman Michele Montas said in a statement. She added that the the secretary general called on Pakistani rulers “to immediately release those detained, lift restrictions on the media and take early steps for a return to democratic rule.” — AFP

Newspaper office raided

KARACHI; Police on Monday raided a printing press belonging to Pakistan’s biggest-selling newspaper group amid tough curbs on the media imposed under the state of emergency, officials said. They stormed the Karachi premises of Awam, a sister publication of Jang group, following reports it was bringing out a special supplement on the emergency, they said. “It is an attack on the freedom of the media. It is beyond the law,” the editor of the evening newspaper, Nazir Leghari, said. — AFP