Riot police beat up lawyers during protest

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The Independent Online

Pakistani riot police fired tear gas and used batons yesterday on lawyers protesting against a decision to approve General Pervez Musharraf as a candidate in next weekend's presidential election.

A day after the country's Supreme Court dismissed several legal challenges to Gen Musharraf's bid for a new five-year term, the Election Commission approved his candidacy. Around 500 lawyers tried to approach the commission's offices to demonstrate against the decision, and some threw rocks as they were blocked by security forces. The clashes lasted for at least two hours. "I was repeatedly beaten by the police for just standing outside the Election Commission," said Dr Tariq Hassan, one of the lawyers.

Gen Musharraf has gambled on holding an election on Saturday as his best chance of securing another five years in power. The president will be chosen by members of the national and regional legislatures, and most observers believe he has enough support to win – a result of his calling the election before members of those assemblies themselves have to face the voters.

Many lawyers and journalists yesterday took safety in the Supreme Court, which on Friday had opened the way for Gen Musharraf to run, even though he has refused to quit the military. Among them was Aitzaz Ahsan, a leading lawyer and one of the leaders of the protests. "Obviously Gen Musharraf, in what should have been his finest moment, has lost his nerve. The brutality and criminality is quite evident," he said.

"No army officer active in service and uniform is entitled to contest for the office of president. Pervez Musharraf's nomination papers should have been rejected by now."