Police break up Bhutto party rally

Crackdown on dissent comes as ex-PM announces plan to hold bigger protests.

    Lawyers continued to battle policemen in cities
    across Pakistan on Wednesday [AFP]
    "Despite the protests being limited in scale and quite minor, the police fired tear gas [at Bhutto’s supporters]," Al Jazeera's Nadim Baba reported from Islamabad.
     
    "They had gathered at the beginning of the parliament session which the PPP had decided to boycott, along with all the other members of the opposition."
     
    Later on Wednesday, George Bush, the US president, announced in Washington that he personally told Musharraf that he must hold parliamentary elections and relinquish his post as head of his country's army.
     
    "You can't be the president and the head of the military at the same time," Bush said, describing a telephone call with Musharraf on Wednesday.
     
    Widespread dissent
     
    Hundreds of people, mostly lawyers and opposition politicians, have been detained in Pakistan since Musharraf imposed emergency rule on Saturday.
     
    "This was day one of our protest," Qamar Zaman Kaira, a PPP member within Pakistan's national assembly, told Al Jazeera.
     
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    "We will offer the other parties ... who are serious in restoring democracy and civil rule to Pakistan [our support]," he said.
     
    Supporters of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz group, which is headed by Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister, also protested against Musharraf in the city of Lahore on Wednesday.
     
    Meanwhile, Kamal Hyder, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Pakistan, reported that members of the legal fraternity had also protested in Peshawar against Musharraf's imposition of emergency rule.
     
    Plan for rally
     
    Babar Awan, a senior member of the PPP, said that the party would not observe constraints under emergency law.
     
    "We denounce the government ban, and want to make it clear that our supporters and leaders will reach Rawalpindi for the rally," he said.
     
    However, police said they would use current emergency powers to force an end to any protests.
     
    Saud Aziz, Rawalpindi's police chief, said: "If they try to flout the ban, the law would take its course."
     
    Special report

    Javed Akhlas, the mayor of Rawalpindi, said police would be out in force to prevent anyone reaching the park where Bhutto hoped to address supporters.
     
    "We will ensure that they don't violate the ban on rallies, and if they do it, the government will take action according to the law," he said.
     
    Bhutto, a Pakistani prime minister on two former occasions, also called on Wednesday for supporters to march from Lahore to the capital on November 13 if Musharraf does not rescind the emergency order.
     
    "It does seem to be another level that Bhutto has stepped up her rhetoric," Baba reported.
     
    "Significantly, for the first time this week she has called her protesters onto the streets. She knows she commands some sort of support among the grass-roots, not just in her stronghold of Karachi but here in Punjab," Baba said.
     
    Bhutto wants Musharraf to announce the date of presidential elections mooted for January, restore constitutional rule and quit as head of the army.
     
    Corruption charges
     
    Bhutto, in her strongest comments since Musharraf imposed emergency rule, said the world must make Pakistan's military leader revoke his measures or tell him to quit.
     
    "If he doesn't, then I believe that the international community must choose between the people of Pakistan and him," Bhutto said in an interview with British TV broadcaster Channel 4.
     

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    "Musharraf has many enemies in his country and I believe with Bhutto as PM there would be more people supporting the goverment"

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    She returned to Pakistan on Tuesday, but said that a meeting with Musharraf was "not in her schedule during her stay in Islamabad".
     
    Musharraf and Bhutto had been in contact for several months prior to her return, discussing a possible power-sharing deal.
     
    He granted her an amnesty on corruption charges in October to allow her to return home.
     
    Also on Wednesday, Imran Khan, the Pakistani cricketer turned politician, also called for protests against Musharraf in a video broadcast on the private Geo TV.
     
    "If we don't resist, it will take Pakistan on the path of destruction," Khan said in the short video message.
     
    Political crisis
     
    Lawyers scuffled with police during a third day of demonstrations on Wednesday, protesting against Musharraf's weekend declaration of a state of emergency.
     
    Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the president of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League and a member of Musharraf's inner circle, has told the local press that the emergency rule is likely to end in "two to three weeks".
     
    "I'm sure it will end in two to three weeks as president Pervez Musharraf is aware of the consequences of long emergency rule," he said in the Dawn's Wednesday edition.
     
    Indispensable ally
     
    In Washington, John Negroponte, the deputy US secretary of state, said on Wednesday that continued engagement with Pakistan was the "only option" despite Musharraf's declaration of emergency rule.
     
    "We cannot afford to return to our past estrangement," he said in prepared testimony to the  Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives.
     
    "Partnership with Pakistan and its people is the only option."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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