Pakistan: emergency rule will be over 'within a month'

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The Independent Online

After days of intense international pressure, and as Benazir Bhutto pressed on with her opposition to General Musharraf's measures, the Pakistan government has said that emergency rule would be brought to an end within a month.

Pakistan's Attorney General, Malik Mohammed Qayyum, yesterday told the Associated Press that the state of emergency, imposed on 3 November, would "end within one month". He is expected to offer further details today.

Ms Bhutto, a former prime minister who was forcibly prevented from leaving her home to address a political rally on Friday, tried to visit the deposed chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, at his home in Islamabad's judicial colony, where he is being held under house arrest and where telephone lines have been cut. The restraining order on Ms Bhutto was lifted on Friday night.

Ms Bhutto, accompanied by senior party members, approached Mr Chaudhry's residence in a bullet-proof four-wheel drive, only to be met by rows of armed police. "He is the chief justice. He is the real chief justice," Ms Bhutto shouted from a PA system attached to her vehicle. She has demanded that Mr Chaudhry and other judges who have been sacked and replaced by a less hostile bench be restored. "This government is standing on its last foot," she said, amid brief clashes between her supporters and the police.

General Musharraf's slide in popularity was triggered in March after an abortive attempt to sack the chief justice. Mr Chaudhry was reinstated after months of street protests, led by lawyers and supported by opposition parties including Ms Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP). Lawyers close to Mr Chaudhry, who had been critical of Ms Bhutto's power-sharing negotiations with the government and her initial equivocation on the matter of the sacked judiciary, welcomed her remarks. "It's a very pleasant change and a new development that Benazir is taking the right course," said Athar Minallah, a senior lawyer.

While Ms Bhutto has been increasingly vocal lately in her criticisms of the government, on Friday she signalled that she would still be open to the possibility of power-sharing talks with General Musharraf if her demands were met. "If he restores the constitution, takes off his uniform, gives up the office of the chief of army staff and announces an election by 15 January, then it's OK," she said.

Ms Bhutto also paid tribute to a group of nearly 300 journalists who were out protesting against the government's decision to take independent cable news channels off the air and impose a code of conduct. Kashif Abbasi, a prominent political talk-show host at ARY OneWorld, said: "The government doesn't want us to carry out independent journalism."

Pakistanis now have no access to news beyond the state-owned broadcaster Pakistan Television and the heavily circumscribed output of the morning's papers. CNN, BBC and al-Jazeera are no longer available. Independent Pakistani news channels, whose coverage of recent political event has elicited sharp criticism from government officials, have been looking at other means of offering viewers access to their coverage.

A number of channels are carrying live streaming broadcasts on their respective website. Dawn News, launched by the highly respected newspaper of the same name, is issuing news alerts by mobile phone and on its website. A number of clips have been uploaded on to YouTube, and can be watched through the internet, which is still available.

Journalists at Geo TV, the most popular cable channel, have said that they have received letters of intimidation. Wamiq Zuberi, the owner of Aaj TV, said his satellite feed has been interrupted. Azhar Abbas, a producer at Dawn News, said his reporters have been threatened with violence.

The government reported yesterday that three British journalists working for the Telegraph Group were being given 72 hours to leave the country. They include Isambard Wilkinson, Colin Freeman and Daniel Macelroy. The deputy information minister, Tariq Azim, said: "They were using foul and abusive language against Pakistan and Pakistan's leadership."

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