Deposed Pakistani judge urges defiance against Musharraf

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan &

Pakistan's deposed chief justice called on lawyers nationwide to defy police and protest President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's imposition of emergency rule, while the government debated whether to delay parliamentary elections by as much as three months.

The ousted judge, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, called on lawyers to defy the state of emergency &

and hundreds of attorneys and police clashed during a street rally in the central city of Multan in the second day of unrest since the restrictions were imposed.

"Go to every corner of Pakistan and give the message that this is the time to sacrifice," Chaudhry, who is under virtual house arrest in the capital, Islamabad, told lawyers by mobile phone. "Don't be afraid. God will help us and the day will come when you'll see the constitution supreme and no dictatorship for a long time."

President Bush and other Western allies have pressured Musharraf to resign as army chief and hold crucial parliamentary elections in January as originally planned, but so far no new date has been set.

But former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who returned to Pakistan last month following eight years in exile, claimed the government had already decided to delay the elections by at least a year.

"They have postponed the election for one or two years. But they have not announced it as such. I know this from the inside," she told The Associated Press. She did not provide details of the source of her information.

Bhutto challenged Musharraf to prove her wrong by coming out on television and telling the country that the elections would go ahead as planned.

A Cabinet minister said the government discussed delaying the polls by no more than three months, but insisted there had been no final decision.

"The issue of holding elections was discussed at length, and after attending the Cabinet meeting I feel that the elections may be delayed by two months," the minister told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about it to media.

"There will not be a delay of elections for longer than three months," he said. "There is no final decision."

Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup, declared a state of emergency on Saturday, saying it was a response to a growing Islamic militant threat. He suspended the constitution, put a stranglehold on the media and granted sweeping powers to authorities to crush dissent. Thousands of people have been rounded up and thrown in jail.

Many say Musharraf was making a final effort to cling to power, though he says his primary aim was to help fight rising a growing Taliban and al Qaida-linked militant threat.

Despite the government's strengthened powers, its struggle to control the lawless Afghan border region continued: Islamic militants seized a town from outnumbered security forces who surrendered without a fight.

In the northwestern Swat valley, which has seen a wave of militant violence, about two dozen police officers and several troops offered no resistance to militants who seized three police stations and a military post around the town of Matta.

"We didn't harm the police and soldiers and allowed them to go to their homes as they didn't fight our mujahedeen," said Sirajuddin, a spokesman for Maulana Fazlullah, a firebrand cleric whose armed followers are battling security forces.

He said the militants had hoisted their black and white flags over the captured posts. A police official in Swat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment and also feared reprisals, confirmed the surrender.

Musharraf's moves came ahead of a Supreme Court ruling on whether his recent re-election as president was legal. The top judge, Chaudhry, was removed and other justices replaced.

There does not appear to be a groundswell of popular resistance in the nation of 160 million, which has been under military rule for much of its 60-year history, with cynicism and apathy over the political system widespread. Demonstrations so far have been limited largely to opposition activists, rights workers and lawyers, angered by the attacks on the judiciary.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Sadiq responded to international criticism Tuesday by saying its emergency declaration was an "internal matter."

So far only the Netherlands has punished Pakistan, freezing most of its development aid.

The United States, Pakistan's chief foreign donor, says it is reviewing aid to the Muslim nation but appeared unlikely to cut military assistance to its close ally in the so-called war on terror. U.S. aid to Pakistan has totaled more than $10 billion since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in America.

Chaudhry, the deposed chief justice, addressed lawyers gathered inside the Islamabad Bar Association headquarters by telephone. His comments were relayed by speaker to about 200 lawyers protested outside. They shouted "Musharraf is a criminal &

we will not accept uniforms or bullets!"

Almost immediately after Chaudhry spoke, some mobile phone services in the city were cut. They were back up hours later; it was not clear if the events were related.

Lawyers were the driving force behind protests earlier this year when Musharraf tried unsuccessfully to fire Chaudhry.

Under the emergency, Musharraf purged the Supreme Court of independent-minded judges. So far, eight judges have taken a new oath. Previously there were 17 judges in the court.

In their first ruling, the eight "set aside" a ruling of seven other rebellious judges, including Chaudhry, who had rejected the emergency as unconstitutional, court spokesman Arshad Muneer said.

The court is expected to resume hearings on Musharraf's eligibility for another presidential term and issue a quick ruling in his favor.

Musharraf also has moved to control the media. Police raided and briefly sealed a printing press belonging to Pakistan's largest media group. Broadcasts by independent news networks remained blocked, and domestic transmissions of BBC and CNN were cut.

Opposition groups say about 3,500 people have been arrested since the emergency was put in place, while government officials put the number at around 2,500. Most detainees are lawyers, although opposition party supporters and rights activists have also been arrested.

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