IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Pakistani police fire tear gas at lawyers

Police fired tear gas Monday to disperse scores of attorneys demanding that President Pervez Musharraf reinstate the chief justice, who has been under house arrest since a sweeping crackdown last year.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Police fired tear gas Monday to disperse scores of attorneys demanding that President Pervez Musharraf reinstate the chief justice, who has been under house arrest since a sweeping crackdown last year.

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, meanwhile, arrived in Islamabad for talks with Musharraf and the military leadership. It was the second visit in a month by Adm. Mike Mullen, reflecting U.S. concerns over a growing insurgency by al-Qaida and Taliban militants in the tribal region near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.

The police fired several tear gas canisters at about 200 lawyers and other demonstrators, who were shouting slogans outside the residence of ousted Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry.

The police crackdown was filmed by television news cameras and broadcast live across the country. Many lawyers were seen coughing and bending over after being hit by clouds of the acrid smoke. Some picked up the canisters and threw them back at the policemen, who retreated before regrouping.

Chaudhry has been under house arrest along with his family since Musharraf declared a state of emergency on Nov. 3.

The lawyers had gathered outside his house after hearing unconfirmed television reports that the government had lifted the house-arrest restrictions on his wife and three children. The lawyers became agitated when it became apparent that the reports were apparently incorrect.

"Free the children, Go Musharraf Go!" shouted the lawyers, who also demanded that police allow them to go inside the house, which is surrounded by barbed wire.

Chaudhry and dozens of other senior judges were fired just before the Supreme Court was to rule on the legitimacy of Musharraf's re-election in October by a parliament dominated by his supporters.

"There is no example in history where 60 judges have arrested and detained with their families and eight of them continue to remain in detention to this day," said Aitzaz Ahsan, the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association.

More protests set for next week
Ahsan, who also had been under house arrest until his release Sunday, said the lawyers would stage a week of protests starting March 9.

The attorneys' movement will add further pressure on Musharraf, who has become increasingly isolated politically after his party was trounced in the Feb. 18 elections.

The Pakistan People's Party of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto came in first, and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N party was second.

The dismissal of judges drew some of the strongest criticism that Musharraf has faced since seizing power in a bloodless coup in 1999 when he was the army chief. Musharraf retired from the army in November and allowed the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections.

He is now expected to face a hostile Parliament after opposition groups that won the elections pledged to cooperate with each other against his rule.

Asif Zardari, Bhutto's widower an co-chairman of the PPP, said the party had not decided whether it would try to unseat Musharraf before the new government is sworn in.

"We understand how sensitive the situation is so we will handle the situation with care and will not disappoint the masses," Zardari told a news conference.

Musharraf also has struggled to assert control of areas in northwestern Pakistan, where three suicide bombings killed more than 80 people in the past few days.

On Monday, armed supporters of a radical Islamic cleric exchanged gunfire with villagers resisting the demolition of a shrine in northwestern Pakistan, leaving seven people dead, said police officer Zardad Khan.

The clash was unrelated to the pro-Taliban Islamic insurgency gripping the region, but it demonstrated the lawlessness in the area.

Last month, Mullen said the threat of Islamic extremism was growing in Pakistan and that the country's leadership was aware of the challenge facing the nation.

He arrived in Islamabad following a stop in Iraq over the weekend, said Elizabeth Colton, the spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.

Mullen was likely to discuss plans calling for 22 U.S. personnel to train elements of the Pakistani military in counter-insurgency and intelligence gathering techniques later this year.