Pakistan's Top Judge Asks Lawyers to Resist Emergency Rule

Pakistan's deposed chief justice called on lawyers Tuesday to defy baton-wielding police and protest until President Gen. Pervez Musharraf lifts a state of emergency. The government, meanwhile, debated whether to delay parliamentary elections by up to three months.

"This is the time to sacrifice," Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry told lawyers gathered at Islamabad's Bar Association by mobile phone, adding that he was under house arrest and surrounded by army troops, but was with them in spirit.

"Don't be afraid. God will help us and the day will come when you'll see the constitution supreme and no dictatorship for a long time."

At least two rallies by lawyers turned violent, in the central city of Multan and the eastern city of Gujranwala.

The clashes marked the second day of unrest since Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup, declared the emergency Saturday. He ousted independent-minded judges, put a stranglehold on the media and granted sweeping powers to authorities to crush dissent. Thousands of people have been rounded up and thrown in jail since then.

President Bush and other Western allies have pressured Musharraf to resign as army chief and hold crucial parliamentary elections in January as originally planned, but so far no new date has been set.

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who returned to Pakistan last month following eight years in exile, claimed the government had already decided to delay the elections by one to two years. "They have not announced it as such, (but) I know this from the inside," she told AP Television News, providing no details of the source of her information.

Bhutto challenged Musharraf to prove her wrong by coming out on television and announcing elections would go ahead as planned.

A Cabinet minister said the government discussed delaying the polls by no more than three months, but insisted there had been no final decision. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about it to media.

Many say Musharraf was making a final effort to cling to power when he imposed emergency measures, though he says his primary aim was to help fight a growing Taliban and al-Qaida-linked militant threat. In the northwest, near the Afghan border, extremists seized the town of Matta from outnumbered security forces who surrendered without a fight.

"We didn't harm the police and soldiers and allowed them to go to their homes as they didn't fight our mujahedeen," said Sirajuddin, a spokesman for Maulana Fazlullah, a firebrand cleric whose armed followers are battling security forces.

Musharraf's decision to scrap the country's constitution came ahead of a Supreme Court ruling on the legality of his recent re-election as president. Critics said he should have been disqualified because he contested the vote as army chief. The top judge, Chaudhry, and other justices were removed and replaced.

Though anger is mounting, there does not appear to be a groundswell of popular resistance in the nation of 160 million, which has been under military rule for much of its 60-year history. With many people apathetic about politics, rallies so far have been limited largely to opposition activists, rights workers and lawyers angered by the attacks on the judiciary.

But many of Pakistan's closest allies in the West have expressed concern.

So far, only the Netherlands has punished Pakistan, freezing most of its development aid.

The United States said it was reviewing aid to the Muslim nation, but it appeared unlikely to cut military assistance to its close ally in the so-called war on terror. U.S. aid to Pakistan has totaled more than $10 billion since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in America.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Sadiq responded Tuesday to the international criticism about emergency measures by saying it was an "internal matter."

Chaudhry, the deposed chief justice, addressed two dozen lawyers gathered inside the Islamabad Bar Association by mobile phone, which was placed on speaker and then amplified for hundreds of lawyers protesting outside.

"Musharraf is a criminal — we will not accept uniforms or bullets!" some shouted. Others chanted "Chaudhry! Chaudhry!"

Almost immediately after the former chief justice spoke, some mobile phone services in the city were cut. They were back up hours later; it was not clear if the events were related. Broadcasts by independent news networks remained blocked, but Chaudhry's message was picked up by some local TV stations, which could be viewed by satellite.

Lawyers were the driving force behind protests earlier this year when Musharraf tried unsuccessfully to fire Chaudhry.

Under the emergency, Musharraf purged the Supreme Court of independent-minded judges. So far, eight judges have taken a new oath. Previously there were 17 judges in the court.

In their first ruling, the eight "set aside" a ruling of seven other rebellious judges, including Chaudhry, who had rejected the emergency as unconstitutional, court spokesman Arshad Muneer said.

The court is expected to resume hearings on Musharraf's eligibility for another presidential term and issue a quick ruling in his favor.

Opposition groups say about 3,500 people have been arrested since the emergency was put in place, while government officials put the number at around 2,500. Most detainees are lawyers, although opposition party supporters and rights activists have also been arrested.

Some, however, already have been freed. A court in the eastern city of Lahore has granted bail to 54 human rights activists, 30 of whom have been released, said their lawyer, Khawaja Haris.

Bhutto, who has held inconclusive talks on forging an alliance with Musharraf to fight Islamic extremism just a few weeks ago, said Tuesday she had no plans to meet with the army chief "in the given circumstances." She demanded the immediate restoration of the constitution.