Pakistan clashes after Chaudry urges 'sacrifice'

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of lawyers were involved in new clashes with Pakistani police just hours after the country's ousted Chief Justice addressed them by phone and urged them to stand up against General Pervez Musharraf and his declaration of emergency rule.

In a speech relayed to lawyers meeting in Islamabad, Iftikhar Chaudhry, who is under house arrest, said: "Go to every corner of Pakistan and give the message that this is the time to sacrifice. 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."

Several hours after he spoke, hundreds of lawyers in the city of Multan clashed with police as security forces sought to break up a street rally held in defiance of a ban on protests. Both sides threw stones at one another and police used their sticks to disperse the crowd.

As the government met to discuss whether scheduled parliamentary elections should go ahead and on what timetable, the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto – who is hoping to secure a third term as premier by leading her party to victory in those elections – flew into Islamabad for a meeting with colleagues. Ms Bhutto, the head of the Pakistan People's Party, said she had no plans to meet the general, with whom she had previously come to a power-sharing arrangement.

"There will be no talks with Musharraf in the given circumstances," she said, demanding "the restoration of the constitution immediately, withdrawal of all bans on the media and the judiciary, and the release of all the arrested people." She is due to hold a rally today.

Since the general suspended the constitution and declared emergency rule on Saturday, he has come under intense pressure from the international community, and in particular from the United States and United Kingdom, to reverse his decision, although they have fallen short of cutting the millions of pounds worth of aid programmes to the country.

General Musharraf appeared to be bending to the international pressure by Monday, when his government said that elections would take place within two months as scheduled. Yesterday, however, various government officials said that a decision on when the elections should take place had not yet been finalised. One minister who attended a cabinet meeting chaired by Shaukat Aziz, the Prime Minister, said: "The issue of holding elections was discussed at length... I feel that the elections may be delayed by two months. There will not be a delay of elections for longer than three months. There is no final decision."

In his speech to lawyers, Mr Chaudhry said that he hoped he would soon join the protests. "The lawyers should convey my message to the people to rise up and restore the constitution. This is a time for sacrifices. I am under arrest now, but soon I will also join you in your struggle," he said. Mr Chaudhry released a statement to The Independent on Monday calling for the rule of law to be respected.

The newly selected justices chosen to replace Mr Chaudhry and six other Supreme Court lawyers, who were fired when they refused to ratify General Musharraf's emergency proclamation order on Saturday evening, started reversing some of the rulings of the previous bench. In their first move, the eight "set aside" the ruling that rejected that order. They are expected to consider today the validity of General Musharraf's recent electoral victory. Most observers believe General Musharraf invoked emergency powers in order to avoid a ruling against him by Mr Chaudhry and the other justices.

Opposition groups say 3,500 people have been held since the emergency, while government officials put the number at 2,500.

Khan's appeal

The former cricket star turned opposition politician Imran Khan passed a message to the outside world yesterday via his ex-wife, Jemima Khan.

"They are using sheer force... and all genuine opposition leaders are in jail. The police have ransacked my house and ill-treated my family. I believe the Americans are complicit... Our aim is to continue the struggle and mobilise the youth from underground."