Pakistani Lawyer Clash With Riot Police Over Musharraf Nomination

Riot police fired tear gas and used batons on protesting lawyers as Pakistan's Election Commission rejected objections to President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's re-election bid Saturday.

A day after the Supreme Court quashed legal challenges to Musharraf's candidacy, the Election Commission approved his nomination, a senior commission official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.

The commission approved only five of the 43 candidates, including Musharraf's two main challengers: Wajihuddin Ahmed, a retired judge nominated by lawyers, and Makhdoom Amin Fahim, vice chairman of ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, the official said.

A list was to be released later Saturday.

"If the rule of law has to prevail, the Election Commission of Pakistan would not allow a serving general to contest the presidential election," Tariq Mahmood, one of Ahmed's main aides, said earlier.

Musharraf was nominated by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and 16 other allies for another five-year term in an Oct. 6 vote by federal and provincial lawmakers. Shortly after they arrived at the commission to respond to the objections, about 200 lawyers — who earlier burned copies of the court ruling — tried to approach from the nearby Supreme Court building.

Scenes of chaos ensued on barricaded Constitution Avenue, with security forces and protesters pelting each other with rocks. Police fired tear gas shells and beat the protesters, with at least one officer using a tree branch. An AP reporter saw two lawyers with head injuries.

Live television coverage also showed police arresting some female supporters from former Bhutto's party and shoving them into a waiting van. At least three opposition legislators also were dragged away.

Running clashes continued for at least 90 minutes. A cameraman and reporter for the independent ARY news channel were injured, and correspondent Asma Shera said they had deliberately been targeted.

It was the first protest since a crackdown on the opposition began a week ago. The government defended the arrests of hundreds of opposition activists nationwide as necessary to maintain law and order in the face of promised street protests.

But the chief justice ordered their immediate release after security forces sealed off the capital Thursday, when Musharraf's nomination papers were filed.

Despite dwindling popularity and increasingly bitter opposition, Musharraf, a close U.S. ally, appears set to win the Oct. 6 vote. The general's main challenger is Ahmed.

Fahim's party earlier said he would only run if Musharraf was disqualified. The opposition alliance has said its lawmakers would quit Parliament on Tuesday to protest the general's candidacy. They were to submit their resignations to their parties later Saturday.

On Friday, the Supreme Court dismissed petitions filed by opposition parties and lawyers arguing that Musharraf was ineligible to run because he had retained his army post. The ruling triggered jubilation in the government and anger among the opposition, which vowed to keep fighting to sideline the general.

The ruling coalition says it has enough support to win re-election.

Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, has faced growing opposition since his failed attempt to oust Pakistan's top judge in March. He is also struggling to contain growing Islamic militancy and growing public sentiment that his alliance with Washington has fanned extremism.

But he has tried to retake the initiative in recent weeks.

The general has pledged to give up his powerful post as army chief if he wins the election and restore civilian rule in a country that has lurched between unstable elected governments and military regimes during its 60-year history.

At the same time, he has clamped down on his most vociferous opponents.