ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) – Pakistan’s deposed chief justice called on lawyers yesterday to revolt against President Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s imposition of emergency rule and a crackdown on the opposition that has left thousands under arrest.
The government considered a delay in parliamentary elections despite Western demands they be held on schedule in January to bring democracy to a nuclear-armed country dogged by political uncertainty and rising Islamic militancy.
Fragile security in the northwest – cited by officials as a reason for the suspension of the constitution – deteriorated further as pro-Taliban militants seized a town from outnumbered security forces.
While Musharraf says emergency powers are needed so the government can better fight Islamic extremists, his crackdown has been aimed at lawyers and liberal political activists opposing his rule. The Supreme Court, in particular, had chipped away at his powers this year.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, a figurehead for the resistance, has been under house arrest since Saturday night. But he managed to address hundreds of lawyers using a cell phone from his Islamabad residence, which he said was surrounded by security forces.
“Go to every corner of Pakistan and give the message that this is the time to sacrifice,” Chaudhry said over loudspeakers. “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.”
Attorneys gathered at the Islamabad Bar Association cheered.
“Chaudhry! Chaudhry!” they chanted. “Musharraf is a criminal! We will not accept uniforms or bullets!”
Moments later, mobile phone service cut off in Islamabad, but Chaudhry’s message had already been recorded as an MP3 file. It spread swiftly, and local TV stations aired it via satellite. Cell phone service resumed hours later.
After Chaudhry spoke, hundreds of police in the central city of Multan blocked about 1,000 lawyers from leaving a district court complex to stage a street rally in defiance of a ban on protests. Both sides pelted each other with stones and officers swung clubs to scatter the crowd.
At least three lawyers and three officers were injured, some bleeding from the head. Violence also was reported at a rally by lawyers in the eastern city of Gujranwala.
The clashes marked the second straight day of unrest since emergency rule was declared Saturday by Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup. He has ousted independent-minded judges, put a stranglehold on the media and granted sweeping powers to authorities to crush dissent.
Many of those detained have been lawyers, who have been in the forefront of protests against the military ruler, but opposition party supporters and human rights activists also are under arrest. The government says about 2,500 were detained; the opposition says 3,500.
The United States and other Western nations have urged Musharraf to stick to the election timetable, but so far no date has been set. They also want the president to fulfill his promise to give up his second post as army chief.
“President Musharraf has made certain commitments with respect to taking off the uniform and to holding elections as scheduled in January. We have, through a number of different means, conveyed to him that we expect him to abide by those commitments,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.