Pakistani Police Clash With Lawyers Protesting State of Emergency, 3,500 Arrested

Police fired tear gas and clubbed thousands of lawyers protesting President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's decision to impose emergency rule, as Western allies threatened to review aid to the troubled Muslim nation. Opposition groups put the number of arrests at 3,500, although the government reported half that.

Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup and is also head of Pakistan's army, suspended the constitution on Saturday ahead of a Supreme Court ruling on whether his recent re-election as president was legal. He ousted independent-minded judges, put a stranglehold on independent media and granted sweeping powers to authorities to crush dissent.

Though public anger was mounting in the nation of 160 million people, which has been under military rule for much of its 60-year history, demonstrations so far have been limited largely to activists, rights workers and lawyers. All have been quickly and sometimes brutally stamped out.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Washington was reviewing its assistance to Pakistan, which has received billions of dollars (euros) in aid since Musharraf threw his support behind the U.S.-led war on terror after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

At a news conference in the West Bank on Monday, she urged the army chief to follow through on past promises to "take off his uniform."

"I want to be very clear," she said, as a team of U.S. defense officials postponed plans to travel to Islamabad for talks Tuesday because of the crisis. "We believe that the best path for Pakistan is to quickly return to a constitutional path and then to hold elections."

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggested during a visit to China, however, that military aid may not be affected because the Bush administration does not want to disrupt its partnership with Pakistan in fighting al-Qaida and other militants.

Britain also said it was reviewing its aid package to Pakistan, and the Dutch government suspended development assistance, becoming the first country to do so.

"I am determined to remove my uniform once we correct these pillars — the judiciary, the executive, and the parliament," Musharraf was quoted by state-run Pakistan Television as telling foreign ambassadors when they met with him at his residence Monday.

"I can assure you there will be harmony ... confidence will come back into the government, into law enforcement agencies and Pakistan will start moving again on the same track as we were moving."

Pakistan's leaders earlier said parliamentary elections scheduled for January could be pushed back by up to a year.

The attorney general called Monday for the polls to be held on time, but Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, speaking to journalists, left open the possibility for a delay.

"The next general elections will be held according to the schedule or a program that will be finalized after consultation with all the stakeholders," he said.

Critics say Musharraf imposed emergency rule in a last-ditch attempt to cling to power.

His leadership is threatened by the Islamic militant movement that has spread from border regions to the capital, the reemergence of political rival and former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, and an increasingly defiant Supreme Court, which has been virtually decimated in the last two days.

Since late Saturday, between 1,500 and 1,800 people have been detained nationwide, an Interior Ministry official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

But Ahsan Iqbal, a spokesman for former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's opposition party said authorities had rounded up around 2,300 of their supporters. Other political activists, human rights groups, and lawyers added another 1,200 detentions to that toll.

At least 173 workers and supporters of Bhutto — who has held talks in recent months with Musharraf over an alliance to fight extremism — have been arrested, said Pakistan People's Party spokesman Farhatullah Babar.

Lawyers — who were the driving force behind protests earlier this year when Musharraf tried unsuccessfully to fire independent-minded chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry — attempted to stage rallies in major cities on Monday, but were beaten and arrested.

Chaudhry was removed from his post on Saturday, just as the Supreme Court was preparing to rule on the validity of Musharraf's Oct. 6 re-election. Opponents say he should be disqualified because he contested the vote as army chief.

In the biggest gathering Monday, 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.

An Associated Press reporter saw police bundle about 250 lawyers into waiting vans. At least two were bleeding from the head.

Lawyers in the eastern city of Lahore were bludgeoned with batons and then dragged onto a road in front of the high court. About 20 injured were given medical aid in a waiting ambulance before being hauled away in police buses, usually used for transporting prisoners.

"Police also punched and kicked them, despite their age," Tariq Javed Warriach, vice chairman of the Lahore Bar Council, said in reference to some of the senior lawyers. "They were treated so brutally ... I've never seen such a thing."

Even lawyers who were not involved in the protests appeared to be targeted.

One, Imran Qadi Khan, said police pulled him off a bus near Musharraf's army office in Rawalpindi, just south of the capital, as he was heading to work. "We have been sitting here since morning," he said from prison. "The police are not telling us anything about what they plan to do with us."

Another, Mohammad Khan Zaman, said he evaded capture by running to his nearby office. "The police arrested anyone wearing the lawyer's uniform," he said.

In the capital, Islamabad, hundreds of police and paramilitary troops lined roads and rolled out barbed-wire barricades on Monday to seal off the Supreme Court.

Only government employees heading for nearby ministries were allowed through. Two black-suited lawyers whose car was stopped by police argued in vain that they should be granted entry. They were eventually escorted away by two police cars.

A few dozen activists from hard-line Islamic parties gathered nearby, chanting slogans including "Hang, Musharraf, hang!"

As well as calling for protests, lawyers' groups have vowed to boycott all court proceedings held in front of new judges sworn in by Musharraf.

Rana Bhagwandas, a Supreme Court judge who refused to take oath under Musharraf's proclamation of emergency orders, said that he has been locked inside his official residence in Islamabad and that other judges were being pressured to support the government.

"They are still working on some judges, they are under pressure," Bhagwandas told Geo TV in a phone interview.

Authorities have imprisoned or put under house arrest key Musharraf critics, among them Javed Hashmi, the acting president of the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif; cricket star-turned politician, Imran Khan; Asma Jehangir, chairman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; and Hamid Gul, former chief of the main intelligence agency.

Pakistan's largest religious party Jamaat-e-Islami reported that more than 500 of its workers and supporters had been detained since Sunday, including its leader, according to senior members of the party and police.

Attorney General Malik Mohammed Qayyum said Sunday a new panel of Supreme Court judges would rule "as early as possible" on Musharraf's eligibility for a new five-year presidential term.