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Pakistan's Musharraf Declares State of Emergency


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

It's been two days since Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency. Now the backlash has begun. It's being led by the country's legal community. Several thousand lawyers took to the streets of Lahore today. They fought with the police who beat them with sticks and fired teargas. More than 350 of them were reportedly detained. There were protests in several other Pakistani cities, including the capital Islamabad, where NPR's Phillip Reeves reports.

PHILLIP REEVES: They are on the march again. Several hundred lawyers confront police in the middle of the capital, Islamabad. They jostle and argue and are pushed back by police with sticks and metal riot shields. These are the same black suited lawyers who, for week after week, paraded through the streets of Pakistan this past summer, demanding the reinstatement of the suspended chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry.

In July, the Supreme Court restored Chaudhry to the bench. But now, Musharraf has sacked him, replacing him with a loyalist. The lawyers here say this means one thing: their battle with the autocratic general has resumed.

This time, says Jamal Abdul Nasser(ph), it'll be even more intense.

Mr. JAMAL ABDUL NASSER: The determination is on a much higher side because at that time, the lawyers were on the streets to safeguard and defend the judiciary. And now, the lawyers are on the street to defend the state. I am 100 percent sure that this time, the activities of the lawyers will be on much higher skill than the previous one.

REEVES: Undeterred by fierce criticism from the U.S., Musharraf is also toughening up his tactics. Hundreds of lawyer activists, political opponents, and human rights campaigners have been detained in the last two days. Judges who refused to sign a new oath of loyalty have found themselves under house arrest.

Fassar Assar Rashid(ph), a high court attorney, says the legal community feels under siege.

Mr. FASSAR ASSAR RASHID (Lawyer): The lawyers' community, they're up against the whole thing. They're, once again, very angry. They have a feeling that the country is being raped by the army people. And it's a one man dictatorial rule who would not stop at anything, would not stop at anything.

(Soundbite of engine noise)

REEVES: For months, the Supreme Court in Islamabad has been a rallying point for those protesting Musharraf's rule. Today, police protected by riot gear and rolls of razor wire blocked off the Supreme Court, supported by plain clothed intelligence agents.

We can't go to the Supreme Court?

Unidentified Man: No, no, no, no, no. (unintelligible)

REEVES: So it's against the law for the media to go to the…

Unidentified Man: No media.

REEVES: The government is playing hardball. But Jamal Abdul Nasser says that doesn't worry Pakistan's lawyers.

Mr. ABDUL NASSER: We are ready for it. We are expecting it. And we are mentally prepared to face each and every hardship that is going to come in our front in the days to come.

REEVES: But it's far from clear how successful the lawyers will be. They can expect support from Pakistan's media, whose opposition to Musharraf will now grow because the generals introduced a fresh charge of restrictions. The private TV news channels were still off the air today. But the great bulk of the Pakistani public has, for the most part, refrained from taking to the streets against Musharraf.

Fassar Assar Rashid thinks the legal community should bear some blame for this.

Mr. ASSAR RASHID: Perhaps the lawyers' community up till now hasn't been able to motivate people enough. People should understand, the common man should understand that what's going on, and they should be coming out.

REEVES: Whether they actually do so may - says human rights activist, Fassana Bari(ph) - depend on whether the sacked chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, decides to play a public role in opposing Musharraf's state of emergency.

Ms. FASSANA BARI (Human Rights Activist): If the chief justice comes out and announces, you know, that he's going to leave the solicitor's moment, I think things may be turned around very significantly, you know, but not on the call of these political parties. I don't think people are going to come out on the call of political parties.

REEVES: Jamal Abdul Nasser is convinced the chief justice will step up to the plate.

Mr. ABDUL NASSER: We believe that the same role he is going to play, and we expect him to play the role which he played at the time of his removal. And this is going to take another one month from now to accelerate the momentum. And I believe people will come on the streets. I am 100 percent sure.

Phillip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.