Lawyers vow to oust Musharraf in court battle

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CONFRONTATION: An injured Pakistani lawyer being helped by his colleagues during a clash with police in Islamabad on Saturday.
CONFRONTATION: An injured Pakistani lawyer being helped by his colleagues during a clash with police in Islamabad on Saturday.

Nirupama Subramanian

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ISLAMABAD: Aitzaz Ahsan, who fought the court battle for the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary, said on Saturday that even if President Pervez Musharraf won another term, he would be unseated in “a matter of months” by the process of law.

“This [presidential] election will be a virtual election. He may have the arithmetic [to win it] but it will have no impact. It will not secure him. Except for the blind American and British, everyone knows this is a fraudulent election. He is a serving military officer seeking a mandate from an Assembly that is past its shelf life,” Mr. Ahsan said.

Surrounded by several rings of lawyers trying to protect him from a possible arrest in the midst of violence outside the Supreme Court, Mr. Ahsan said the Supreme Court had “chickened out” by dismissing the petitions challenging Gen. Musharraf’s eligibility to contest the elections while in uniform and his dual offices.

“We will fight this out in the courts again,” he said. Two candidates in the presidential election said on Saturday they would challenge Gen. Musharraf’s eligibility to contest the election in the Supreme Court on Monday.

But with Gen. Musharraf’s victory in the election more than likely, there is new confidence in the government. On Friday, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz warned that the government would use all measures at its disposal to check those planning protests against the verdict.

On Saturday, the administration showed none of its usual hesitation in dealing with the protesters. Senior police officials led the fierce baton charges. One of the lasting images of the day was that of a commando in Mr. Aziz’s motorcade pulling out his pistol and pointing it at journalists, his hand menacingly on the trigger.

But the lawyers too were determined not to give up without a fight.

“Here’s a military dictator who uses brute force, and who wants to stay in power by any means. Don’t we have a right to protest? Do we want to go down in history as a nation that never protested?” asked Asma Jehangir, leading human rights lawyer.

Constitution Avenue, where the Supreme Court is located, was a battlefield from 9 a.m. until late in the afternoon.

At each police charge, lawyers rushed into the Supreme Court, regrouped and returned to the road, running back in again when the caning and the teargassing started afresh. Many stones and at least one teargas shell landed in the Supreme Court, prompting the Registrar to come out and ask the police not to target the court.

Raja Yasir, a young lawyer from Rawalpindi, who returned to join the protests after getting 10 stitches on his head, his shirt still bloodstained, said he was fighting for democracy, constitutionalism, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.

He said the Supreme Court’s verdict was “a written statement by the dictator” to six judges who swung the nine-judge bench.

“They should feel ashamed of it,” he said.

Iqbal Haider, secretary-general of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said he was “shocked” at the “barbarity” shown by the police against lawyers and journalists.

He said the HRCP condemned the police action, and would support the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists call for a black day on Sunday. Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azeem was pulled out of an ambulance by journalists who rained several blows on him before he was led away to safety.

Journalists said he was trying to slip past the protesters in the safety of the vehicle, but the Minister told Geo TV he had brought the ambulance to take the injured journalists to hospital.



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